If you were observing US diplomacy in search of the curious – and you had decided to eavesdrop at one of its remotest, least-visited quarters – you would go to the Central American republic of Guatemala, where you would find something quite revealing about the nature of Barack Obama.
This is not an exercise for a slow day. America’s diplomacy in Guatemala is a devastating exposé of Obama’s political character. Through US actions in Guatemala — far more than in Benghazi, in the Ukraine, in the Middle East or elsewhere — Obama stands forth, undisguised, as a left-wing radical. If this stuff were happening in the US, or in other regions that get any kind of spotlight, people would be confused about it because Obama’s gigantic spin-machine would be making them dizzy. But this stuff is happening in Guatemala, and Obama feels no need to apply the spin because no one from the United States is looking.
Well, almost no one.
In Guatemala, Obama’s machinations are made clear by how the US embassy is interfering with the country’s internal matters. And those interventions are occurring in a way that will likely cause you to miss them; because the embassy’s interventions are being done in Spanish only. Its statements are not announced or catalogued in English, and they go unmentioned in US media.
Except in this one.
On April 22, the US embassy in Guatemala issued a statement criticizing the Guatemalan bar association for sanctioning Judge Yassmin Barrios; the lawyers’ guild had seen fit to suspend her from the practice of law for one year. You would think that the embassy could stay out of a matter like this. But Judge Barrios is a favorite of the U.S.—and even of the White House—because she served as the judge in the Ríos Montt genocide trial. Indeed, Barrios had been sanctioned for her actions during that case. But just before the sanctions, she had received the State Department’s “International Women of Courage” Award of 2014 for her actions in the same case—and received the award, in Washington, from none other than First Lady Michelle Obama.
During the trial, in her haste to reach a guilty verdict against Ríos Montt, the judge had taken the highly questionable step of removing Ríos Montt’s lawyer and then ordering two other lawyers to represent him, without consulting the defendant, in violation of his constitutional rights. In its statement, the embassy denounced the bar association for interfering with what it called judicial independence; but the bar association had only been fulfilling its constitutional duty. It was actually the embassy interfering in the judicial process by throwing its weight around. And the embassy’s tactic apparently worked. Shortly thereafter, the assembly of presidents of the professional associations, in a highly unusual and challengeable manner, cancelled Barrios’s suspension (though confirming her ethical violation).
Consistent with its politics, our embassy had earlier supported another assault on judicial independence. In July 2012, Judge Silvia de León of the capital district read into the court record her description of a judges’ meeting at which Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz had made an unannounced appearance. The attorney general’s very presence at the meeting was illegal. In a word, Paz y Paz had tried to browbeat the judges into doing things her way. De León’s act in putting the event on record was obviously an expression of alarm. The attorney general’s purpose had obviously been to compromise judicial independence, not uphold it.
US Ambassador Arnold Chacon was made aware of Judge de León’s story; it was the two authors of this article who shared it with him, along with other perpetrations by Paz y Paz. The ambassador showed no interest in what we told him. In public, he could always be counted on to defend Paz y Paz, an official favored by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself. Earlier this year, just before leaving his post in Guatemala, Chacon made a video in Spanish, addressed to the people of Guatemala, in which he declared that it was “a privilege for my government to count on a partner like Dr. Paz y Paz.” Chacon himself was being promoted to the post of director general of the Foreign Service. His service might well be described by a couplet from Gilbert & Sullivan: “I always voted at my party’s call/and I never thought of thinking for myself at all.”
The Ríos Montt genocide trial was the centerpiece of Obama’s and Paz y Paz’s political agenda in Guatemala. During the trial, the State Department issued a press release that all but called for Ríos Montt’s conviction. The Ríos Montt trial has been intensely, not to say entirely, political in nature. At rare times it has been touched by considerations of law or legality, but only by coincidence.
Power in Guatemala today is crudely and improbably divided between the two factions that have more weight than anyone else: the traditional ruling oligarchs—who emerged from the country’s long conflict with their power intact—and the Marxist ex-guerrillas. With the leftist operative Paz y Paz as attorney general, and radical activists like Yassmin Barrios in key judicial posts, charges were brought against Ríos Montt that would have been dismissed out-of-hand in a system with true rule of law.
The oligarchs consented for the case to move forward, so as not to disturb the ruling coalition. When the trial became unbearable for them, they had it reset almost to its beginning with an order from Guatemala’s highest court. The Left impatiently ignored the order and pressed ahead for a conclusion – which is when Judge Barrios illegally ordered the two lawyers to represent Ríos Montt. Very quickly thereafter, she obtained a “guilty” verdict and slapped the 86-year-old Ríos Montt with an 80-year sentence—which was immediately set aside by another procedural ruling. So the trial has been delayed; but the genocide charge remains on the table, and the judicial process against Ríos Montt is now scheduled to resume early in 2015.
The essence of the case becomes clear when you apply the facts of history to the definition of genocide – a simple exercise that few parties in the debate appear to have done. For example: to the seven Nobel Peace Prize laureates who argued publicly for a conviction, the so-called genocide was “a ‘scorched earth’ campaign aimed at wiping out support for leftist guerrillas during Guatemala’s civil war.”
The Nobel laureates are entirely misguided on this point. “A campaign aimed at wiping out support for leftist guerrillas” is an effort to destroy the guerrilla movement. That is not the same as genocide.
Here is what genocide, by definition, is: the systematic destruction of all or part of a racial, ethnic, religious or national group. While “part” may open a small window of debate, the facts do not substantially support the charge. During the armed conflict, all races, all ethnic, religious and national groups fought on different sides or stayed neutral. Crimes were committed by all sides to the conflict. And those crimes were explicitly absolved in the amnesty that ended the fighting.
During the conflict, no genocide was observed or reported. The charge of genocide was imported after the fact by the international Left, and it was politically motivated. Since various exceptional crimes had been exempted from the amnesty, the charge of genocide became a giant stick that the Left could use to beat its opposition. And the Obama administration has provided open and vigorous support for this Leftist program.
The evidence of history does show that Ríos Montt is guilty of a serious crime, but it is not the crime of genocide. His crime is that he and his regime, during the armed conflict, contributed mightily to defeating the Marxist guerrillas. The Marxists, when they commenced their insurgency, assumed that the impoverished peasants would quickly side with their effort to overthrow the government. The peasants, in their wisdom, did largely the opposite; they turned to the army for help. The army trained and armed many peasants, organizing them into civilian defense patrols which finally handed the guerrillas a military defeat. These are facts that the international left, ever since, has been desperate to conceal and deny.
The Marxists signed the peace accords of 1996 so they could continue their quest for power by political means. Like all other signers, they were pledged to reconciliation, but unlike others, they practiced their solidarity in one direction only. With Paz y Paz in the post of attorney general, the guerrillas gained an opportunity to persecute and destroy their old enemies in the army. This chance they exploited to maximum effect with the help of the Obama administration.
The Obama administration supports the ex-guerrillas because the two groups, in their essence, are the same. The tactic they mutually value is that of “divide and conquer” using race, gender, and class warfare as tools. In Guatemala, the self-proclaimed “human-rights” groups – former guerrillas who expertly co-opted the concept – have a vested interest in keeping people poor and dependent. It is the lifeblood rationale in their struggle for power, and for foreign material and political support. The last things they want are development, progress and the rule of law. The oligarchs play along because they want to keep their economic advantages, which come largely from the privilege of being above the law. While these two groups co-govern with impunity, the rest of society suffers – people of all races, ethnic groups, religions and social classes beneath the oligarch level.
In the U.S., Obama portrays himself as the selfless defender of the public good, while painting his opponents as selfishly motivated and, by implication, evil. Drawing on the human tendency to blame the other, Obama and his partisans sow fear and hatred against their enemies, giving themselves a two-for-one benefit: blame their failures on the enemy, and use that same failure to create a greater number of people dependent on government. Republicans, even under Obama, have a sufficient stake in the system – a share of power, and substantial privileges – to play along. While the rival parties co-govern with near-perfect impunity, most other Americans are adversely affected – people of all races, ethnic groups, religions and social classes who are not part of the elites.
The Obama administration’s blatant support for the ex-guerrillas of Guatemala shows the unvarnished Obama agenda. The U.S. embassy and its friends mercilessly oppose, with callous disregard for the facts, those Guatemalans who faithfully execute their duties, like Judge de León and the officials of the bar association – people who really do support the rule of law, and thereby threaten the leftist agenda.
The Obama administration and the Guatemalan Left are cousins in the struggle to remake the world as they think it should be, completely convinced that they have a monopoly on truth. But true principles are their enemy. So is the rule of law. Principled actors would not behave as they do. People of principle understand that no one owns the truth, and that principled opposition must be welcome. In a system of laws and constitutional protections, that is the appropriate way to act.
Obama and his minions have obviously missed that part of the program. And now, in Guatemala, they are putting their twisted politics into play. With the administration’s immunity from domestic scandal and the lack of U.S. journalistic interest in Guatemala, the U.S. president is working here, openly and ardently, on behalf of an undemocratic movement, completely free from concerns of exposure.
Hopefully, that is, until now.
This article first appeared in the FrontPage Mag.
Armando de la Torre contributed to this article.