"North Americans are educated to believe that the lives of Third World people are of very little value." -- Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann --- president of the UN General Assembly, 2008-09.
Genocide -- the extermination of a whole people -- rightly deserves the reputation as the most grave moral offense ever. The Nazis' involvement with this crime justly condemns them to be considered the ultimate evil in human history. Because Nazis believed an extreme right wing belief that genetics was the all powerful determinant of a person, and no amount of education would change a person, they regarded "re-education" as useless and so annihilation was their "final solution" to races they despised. No other nation, no matter how aggressive, established extermination camps on their scale to annihilate a whole people. During WWII, both the Soviet Union and Japan had brutally cruel and deadly labor and prison camps. But neither nation ever had a project to annihilate a race.
Guatemala's former dictator, Efrain Rios Montt, is on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. Montt, who seized power in a coup March 23, 1982, and was ousted in a coup August 8, 1983, presided over the most savage bloodletting during a 36-year civil war which killed about 200,000. He is charged with killing 1,771 Mayans, a small fraction of the tens of thousands who vanished during his regime. Because the current president of Guatemala was involved in war crimes also, Montt might escape conviction. Yet the hard science shows two facts about the Montt Era: (1.) The deaths were not random: 5.5 percent of the Mayans were killed during his regime, while only .7 percent of non-Mayans were killed. (2.) U.S. satellite images show huge swaths of Mayan land were burned and destroyed during the Montt Era.
In 1999, the Historical Clarification Commission concluded that in this civil war the Guatemalan army was responsible for 93 percent of killings, while leftist guerrillas were blamed for 3 percent, and 4 percent were unresolved. Over 80 percent of the killed were Mayans and 80 percent of them were shot in the head. Over 2,000 mass graves have now been located.
Tragically, the U.S. had links to Montt. President Ronald Reagan was one of the very few world leaders to champion Montt and become a moral and material sustainer of his genocidal regime. (See Robert Parry's online article "Ronald Reagan: Accessory to Genocide.") At the time, Catholic Church leaders, scholars, and the international press warned that the U.S. was making a tragic mistake. But the U.S. media insured that our public would share the Reagan administration's naivety, ignorance and delusions about Guatemala.
Why doesn't the U.S.'s link to Montt's genocide cause a scandal??
There are several possibilities:
* The U.S. is a very legalistic society and the Mayans killed lack legal rights and standing in U.S. courts. U.S. government officials might get into scandals and trouble when they limit press freedom (which is legally protected by the First Amendment); they won't get into much trouble if they are involved in the killing of tens of thousands of Mayans (which lack legal rights and are not protected by the Constitution).
* The Mayans killed were Guatemalan indigenous people and the U.S. government has a poor record with respect to its indigenous people. Andrew Jackson terribly mistreated Indians and yet he is on the U.S. $20 bill, indicating that the lives of indigenous peoples are not respected.
* In the U.S. legal system, the severity of punishment often depends on the race of the victim. For example, a study of North Carolina found that defendants whose victims were white were 3.5 times more likely to receive a death sentence. Almost none of Montt's victims were white.
* The media promotes a culture which highly values only some people. Using the New York Times, media analysts Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman showed that in the 1980s a murdered priest in communist Poland received between 137 and 179 times the attention that a murdered priest in Latin American would receive.
The essence of a scandal is powerful people stepping on other powerful people. The big scandal of the Reagan era was the Iran-Contra scandal, when the administration violated laws and sold arms to Iranians and then used the profits of these sales to finance terrorism against Nicaragua. Neither the terrorism that this entailed, nor the brutal rapes and murders of thousands, turned Reagan's vast criminal project into a scandal. Nor was it a scandal when the Court of International Justice overwhelmingly ruled in favor of Nicaragua and ordered the U.S. to pay reparations and the U.S. refused to recognize the court. The scandal occurred precisely because Reagan had infringed on the constitutional prerogatives of Congress. One powerful institution (the presidency) had stepped on another powerful institution (Congress). In conclusion: It's tragic that there is no scandal and little media interest when powerful people crush powerless people.
Jones lives in West Haven.