... During a month of testimony before the three-judge panel that found General Ríos Montt guilty last Friday, the prosecution never raised the issue of American military backing in the army’s war against leftist guerrillas. ...
Back in 1983, Elliott Abrams, the assistant secretary of state for human rights under President Ronald Reagan, once suggested that General Ríos Montt’s rule had “brought considerable progress” on human rights. ... Brushing off concern from human rights groups about the rising scale of the massacres in Mayan villages, Mr. Abrams declared that “the amount of killing of innocent civilians is being reduced step by step.”
Speaking on “The MacNeil-Lehrer Report,” he argued, “We think that kind of progress needs to be rewarded and encouraged.”
When General Ríos Montt was installed in a coup in March 1982, Reagan administration officials were eager to embrace him as an ally. Embassy officials trekked up to the scene of massacres and reported back the army’s line that the guerrillas were doing the killing, according to documents uncovered by Ms. Doyle.
Over the next two years, about $15 million in spare parts and vehicles from the United States reached the Guatemalan military, said Prof. Michael E. Allison, a political scientist at the University of Scranton who studies Central America. More aid came from American allies like Israel, Taiwan, Argentina and Chile. In the 1990s, the American government revealed that the C.I.A. had been paying top military officers throughout the period. ...
Guatemala’s highest court has postponed rulings on a dozen procedural challenges from the defense that some experts say could ultimately annul the trial. The country’s conservative leaders, represented by a business association known as Cacif, called on the constitutional court to “amend the anomalies” in the trial and complained that the world now viewed all Guatemalans as similar to Nazis.
For some in Guatemala, the virtual invisibility of the American role in the trial was disturbing.
“Who trained them?” asked Raquel Zelaya, a former peace negotiator for the government who now runs a research institute, referring to American support for the military. The trial seemed to be removed from all historical context, she said.