Stopping The Ríos Montt Bandwagon

Ríos Montt
Former Guatemalan dictator Gen. Efrain Ríos Montt, now a candidate for president, poses in Guatemala City, Aug. 23, 2003 (Photo: Orlando Sierra/AFP-Getty Images).

The international community has an opportunity today to show solidarity with Guatemala’s indignation [over Gen. Ríos Montt’s candidacy for president]. Friendly nations such as Canada, the United States, the European Union, Costa Rica, Chile, Brazil or Argentina, among others, ought to show their dissatisfaction with the manipulation of the constitution in Guatemala and the obsession of registering a genocidal general as a presidential candidate.

Declarations saying that with Ríos Montt as president, Guatemala would never be welcome in the community of nations would be most appreciated. They should also stress that Guatemala could never aspire to a free-trade treaty with the United States, Canada or the E.U. if Ríos Montt were president.

In addition, they should help disclose bank accounts that government officials hold in their countries, since the so-called Panama Connection helped many Guatemalans realize the kind of government officials the Party of the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) represents. And for the elections (not just on election day but in advance) they should send observers to monitor the transparency of Guatemala’s electoral process.

International nongovernmental organizations also have an opportunity to show solidarity with Guatemala. They should, for example, help to see that legal proceedings, like the suit brought against Ríos Montt in Spain, are reinforced. Moreover, they could support similar judicial efforts against Ríos Montt in other democratic nations. Ríos-Monttism must be classified at an international level with the same degree of culpability with which war crimes in Serbia were prosecuted. It is important that the evangelical churches, especially those in the United States, reflect on what is happening in Guatemala and talk to their counterparts here, given that a part of the hard-line support that Ríos Montt still has comes from fundamentalist churches.

Finally, society should ask the marginal candidates—those who have less than 7-percent or 5-percent support according to the opinion polls—to renounce their presidential aspirations. The few votes they would get will be votes lost to the opposition, and they could be important in preventing Ríos Montt from going into a second round. Desire for personal gain should be forgotten in this election, and the only ones who should be running are those whose support means they have a real chance of reaching the second round.

These are times in which a society’s maturity and intelligence are under examination. It would be very easy to fall into the trap of asking the Superior Electoral Tribunal not to respect the Constitutional Court’s decision, or to go out into the streets in violent protests. But we do not have to do that. The FRG’s behavior over the past four years shows a profound decline in public political life. Corruption and manipulation of the law have peaked. Society, though, has matured because of this dark night of FRG rule. We should act with the greatest possible calm, yet energetically, and firmly. This response ought to enjoy the full support of the international community. Ríos Montt is not a president for the 21st century; he is a step backward, a reminder of the authoritarian regimes of the early 20th century.