6,060 year sentence in Guatemala only a beginning

The 6,060 year sentence handed out to soldiers for a 1982 massacre during Guatemala's civil war was hailed by rights groups. But this is only the second massacre of 669 to be brought to trial.

Rodrigo Abd/AP
Relatives of people killed by soldiers during a massacre in the community of Dos Erres in 1982, celebrate at the end of a trial in Guatemala City, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011. The court sentenced three former special forces soldiers to 6,060 years in prison each for the massacre of more than 200 men, women and children, one of hundreds that occurred during Guatemala's 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996. Some 240,000 people, mostly Mayan Indians, vanished or died.

The Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) for Guatemala documented 669 massacres during the thirty-six year conflict (see a graphic here.) The CEH attributed 626 collective killings of defenseless populations to the state.

And as is known from the Dos Erres case, it's not just the number of people killed.

"The CEH has noted particularly serious cruelty in many acts committed by agents of the State, especially members of the Army, in their operations against Mayan communities. The counterinsurgency strategy not only led to violations of basic human rights, but also to the fact that these crimes were committed with particular cruelty, with massacres representing their archetypal form. In the majority of massacres there is evidence of multiple acts of savagery, which preceded, accompanied, or occurred after the deaths of the victims.... [These] atrocious acts, were not only actions of extreme cruelty against the victims, but also morally degraded the perpetrators and those who inspired, ordered or tolerated these actions." (The full report can be found here.)

There's still a need to go after the intellectual authors of the slaughter, not just those who carried out the orders.

Mike Allison is an assistant professor in the Political Science Department and a member of the Latin American and Women's Studies Department at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. You can follow his Central American Politics blog here.

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