The senior Guatemalan human rights prosecutor, Judge Jimmy Bremer, has indicted another senior military officer for genocide and crimes against humanity during the country’s civil war. 

Luis Enrique Mendoza Garcia, who was a senior operations officer under the former regime of General Efrain Rios Montt, will go on trial in March for his role in an operation in the early 1980s that killed at least 1,771 Maya Ixil indigenous people and displaced thousands more.

Many don’t know that Guatemala had a terrible and very bloody civil war that took place from 1960 until 1996, when the National Reconciliation Law was signed and forgave everything but the most serious of war crimes.

Only about 1,500 miles from the U.S. border one of the worst cases of genocide in the Western world took place during the bloodiest phases of the war in the 1980s. Over 200,000 Guatemalans, mostly Maya Indians, were killed, while 45,000 disappeared. Mendoza Garcia is the fourth officer charged in the past week. He’d been on the run since 2011, and was finally captured six months ago.

He joins Benedicto Lucas Garcia, Manuel Callejas, and Cesar Noguera, who were indicted in a separate case of genocide against the same indigenous group of people. These four were senior officers under Rios Montt during the bloodiest years of the war in 1982-83. 

Mendoza Garcia loudly protested his innocence via video conference stating that he had neither the means to plan or carry out an operation of this magnitude. “I was NOT the one who ruled,” he said. 

However, the government’s case states that they have several witnesses and victims that can testify against the accused. 

The former head of Guatemalan Intelligence, Jose Mauricio Rodriguez, was acquitted in 2018 of the same charges of genocide and crimes against humanity after the courts ruled that the prosecution had presented insufficient evidence.

Rios Montt was convicted in 2013, but had his verdict tossed less than two weeks later on a technicality. He died in 2018 at the age of 91 as he was facing new charges.

 In 1999, after a two-year investigation, the UN-backed Historical Clarification Commission found that the indigenous Mayan people, in particular, were viewed by government forces and their paramilitary proxies as supporting the Marxist rebels.

The UN commission found that 93 percent of the documented human rights violations had been committed by the government forces or their backers, while 3 percent were carried out by the Marxist rebels.

Some of the worst acts of genocide were reportedly carried out by the Guatemalan Special Forces, known as Kaibiles. The name “Kaibil” is derived from Kaibil Balam, a Maya indigenous leader who evaded capture by the Spanish conquistadors under Pedro de Alvarado.

The Kaibiles go through a rigorous training regimen and few are selected. They are trained in: 

  • Direct action
  • Special reconnaissance
  • Counter-terrorism
  • Foreign internal defense

One of the worst atrocities that was attributed to the Kaibiles was the massacre at Dos Erres outside of La Libertad where 251 people were massacred.  The entire village was rounded up and shot. Many were dumped in a well. Small children had their heads bashed in. Women were raped and then murdered. 

It was during this time that the Kaibiles began the ghastly practice of severing their victims’ heads and putting them on sticks or poles as a warning. During the early 1990s the Kaibiles were sent to train a unit of Mexican Special Forces, the GAFE. Many of those Mexican soldiers later defected to drug cartels and became enforcers for the Gulf cartel. Those enforcers went off and formed their own cartel the “Los Zetas.” Then they quickly hired some of their Kaibil instructors. This is where the beheading of the victims of the cartels originated. 

Some members of the government want to repeal the National Reconciliation Laws and issue blanket immunity for everyone. Among those supporting this initiative is President Jimmy Morales, who is himself facing bribery charges in an unrelated case. 

But his supporters, who have a majority right now in the Guatemalan Congress, mostly feel that exceptions to the amnesty law are being disproportionately applied to the members of the military.  On top of that, the administration’s critics state that the vast majority of human rights violations were committed by government forces or their proxy militias.

Right now, with the new charges against these four senior officers, the move to repeal the National Reconciliation Law has been shelved. While many in Europe have been critical of President Morales’s administration for not cleaning house regarding the genocide charges, the United States has been rather tepid with its criticism — mostly because the U.S. was supporting the government at that time. 

It wasn’t until the Clinton administration in 1999 that the U.S. flipped and apologized for supporting the government during this bloody era. They then deported many Kaibiles who were living in the United States.