MEXICO CITY -- Guatemala’s highest court issued a ruling late Thursday that appears to have broken the complicated legal logjam in the case of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who is facing genocide charges in the slaughter of ethnic Maya during the country’s civil war.
The decision by the Constitutional Court appears to avert the possibility that prosecutors might have to start the trial from scratch, re-creating a case in which more than 100 witnesses have already given testimony, including graphic and emotionally wrenching details of the slaughter of men, women and children.
The trial of Rios Montt, an 86-year-old former army general who ruled the country from 1982 to 1983, is the highest-profile criminal case in modern Guatemalan history. The possibility that it would have to be rebooted was raised a week ago when, just before closing arguments, a judge who had presided over the case many months earlier surprisingly ordered that the trial be annulled, based on a technicality.
With Thursday's ruling, though, it appears that prosecutors may pick up where they left off -- but Jo-Marie Burt, director of the Latin American Studies Program at George Mason University, warned that more surprises could be in store. She noted that the high court must still rule on a number of other complex legal petitions that could affect the case in myriad ways.