For a while it looked like Guatemala was about to deliver justice.
But the genocide case against General Efrain Rios Montt has just been suspended, hours before a criminal court was poised to deliver a verdict.
The last-second decision to kill the case was technically taken by an appeals court.
But behind the decision stands secret intervention by Guatemala's current president and death threats delivered to judges and prosecutors by associates of Guatemala's army.
Many dozens of Mayan massacre survivors risked their lives to testify. But now the court record they bravely created has been erased from above.
The following account of some of my personal knowledge of the case was written several days ago. I was asked to keep it private until a trial verdict had been reached:
For a detailed contemporaneous report of the Rios Montt massacres see my piece in the April 11, 1983 The New Republic, "The Guns of Guatemala: The merciless mission of Rios Montt's army." The piece quotes some of Perez Molina's army subordinates and briefly mentions him as "Major Tito." At the time I wrote it and worked on the film I did not know his real name.
YouTube excerpts from the film went viral in Guatemala during Perez Molina's 2011 presidential campaign. During the campaign Perez Molina was evasive about whether he really was "Major Tito," though it later surfaced that he had admitted it years before but had then attempted to obscure that admission.
Also see my piece in the April 17, 1995 The Nation, "C.I.A. Death Squad: Americans have been directly involved in Guatemalan Army killings." The piece reports on US sponsorship of the G-2, the Guatemalan military intelligence unit which picked targets for assassination and disappearance and often did its own killings and torture. The piece names Perez Molina as one of "three of the recent G-2 chiefs [who] have been paid by the C.I.A., according to U.S. and Guatemalan intelligence sources."
The piece adds that then-Colonel "Perez Molina, who now runs the Presidential General Staff and oversees the Archivo, was in charge in 1994, when according to the Archbishop's human rights office, there was evidence of General Staff involvement in the assassination of Judge Edgar Ramiro Elias Ogaldez."
Likewise, at the time of The Nation article I still did not know that Perez Molina was Tito.
For one aspect of the US role in supporting Rios Montt see my Washington Post piece: "Despite Ban, U.S. Captain Trains Guatemalan Military," October 21, 1982, page 1.
After the 1983 New Republic piece the Guatemalan army sent an emissary who invited me to lunch at a fancy hotel and politely told me that I would be killed unless I retracted the article. The army murdered Guatemalans all the time, but for a US journalist the threat rang hollow. The man who delivered the threat later became an excellent source of information.)