Hail to the Chiefs

One of the things we love about Guatemala is that you can do pretty much whatever occurs to you. Which is fine in the right context. Reversing around a corner onto a major highway at night without your lights on while you’re drunk and not wearing a seat belt, for example, is a fairly harmless activity and something that should be permitted if not encouraged worldwide.


When you’re president, though, your potential for ruining people’s day / week / lives grows exponentially. And the sad thing (well, one of the sad things) about Guatemalan politics is that the parade of clowns and dirtbags who have led this country over the last 200-odd years have done all sorts of despicable garbage and never been called to order on any of it.


That all changed with two very weird events last month, though – first came the sentencing of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt for acts of genocide and crimes against humanity. That Ríos Montt ever went to trial in the first place was almost a miracle – he became the first former head of state to face genocide charges in a court in their own country. In Guatemala. Imagine that. The trial was a lot less surprising – full of legal hokey-pokeys, interventions from the current president (who served as a general under Ríos Montt in the Ixíl triangle, where the worst atrocities occurred) and while the mid-May sentencing (50 years for genocide, 30 years for crimes against humanity) was both shocking and hope-inspiring, the reversal of the conviction 10 days later by the Constitutional Court smelled a lot like the same old, same old. Let’s see what the retrial brings.


The other fatcat to go down was Alfonso Portillo, confessed murderer, Ríos Montt crony and former president who fled to Mexico on the day his political immunity ran out. Portillo, the grubby little crook, makes Ríos Montt look almost ideological (as opposed to just plain pathological) by comparison. In one of those glorious pieces of Guatemalan political irony, he came to office promising to clean up corruption and ended up looting the treasury and scuttling to Mexico in 2004.


Guatemala finally managed to extradite Portillo back here in 2008, but couldn’t make the embezzlement charges stick. Then in another shock turn, the US stepped in and said they wanted Portillo for laundering US$70 million through US banks. And I think we all know where that money came from. He was deported in late May, claiming illness and victimization (poor ducky) and if the US finds him guilty could face up to 20 years in prison. Which would be nice. Nicer if Guatemala had done it, but nice all the same.

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