I’ve blogged before about Rios Montt, the former dictator of Guatemala who is facing two genocide charges for the role he played during the country’s long and ugly civil war. Guatemala’s justice system doesn’t have a particularly great track record, and these days it’s known more for impunity than for maintaining order and defending the victims of crime. So it has been a big, somewhat unexpected step forward to see a former head of state standing trial for war crimes.
Interestingly, key evidence leading to Montt’s indictment was provided in a 1983 documentary called When the Mountains Tremble, directed by Pamela Yates and featuring narration by Rigoberta Menchu, who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize nearly a decade later (though she later became embroiled in controversy).
Yates has now released a new documentary called Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, “The extraordinary story of how a film, aiding a new generation of human rights activists, became a granito — a tiny grain of sand — that helped tip the scales of justice.” Here’s the trailer:
I’d also add that while I think it’s clear the Guatemalan government was responsible for the vast majority of the atrocities committed during the war, that doesn’t mean the guerrillas were particularly good guys either. My take is that a great many poor Guatemalans found themselves caught between the two sides of the conflict, and both sides terrorized them. The distinction is that one of those sides had the resources and the inclination to sow far more terror than the other. I’m not sure the filmmakers of Granito would agree with that assessment, but it’s the conclusion I’ve reached and I think it’s an important point to make.
For those interested in learning more about the latest developments in human rights work in Guatemala, the Washington Office on Latin America is hosting an event this Thursday called Obstacles to Justice: Accountability for Human Rights Violations in Guatemala. The event will be live streamed at WOLA’s site and will feature, among others, Fredy Peccerelli (the forensic anthropologist featured in Granito) and Óscar Ramírez (who I blogged about here).
[Image credit: Skylight Pictures]