Ronald Reagan accomplished many things. One of them was lending his friendship and the robust support of his government to a man convicted today in Guatemala as a mass killer—Efrain Rios Montt, the thick-mustachioed president of the country during the 1980s, who Reagan called "a man of great personal integrity and commitment." Montt presided over a scorched-earth campaign that killed at least 200,000 people, mostly indigenous peasants, in the Guatemalan countryside.
Today, Montt's on-again-off-again trial has come to a close, as Judge Jazmin Barrios ordered that he be taken directly to prison for the next 80 years, meaning he'll be 166 years old when released. Too bad Reagan can't rot in there with him.
Several years ago, a friend of mine lived for nine months in the Guatemalan highlands, working with NISGUA, the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala, to collect testimony and protect survivors from threats by the country's still-violent oligarchy. This is a landmark victory that's been a long time coming; Guatemala sets a worldwide precedent for being the first country to convict one of its own heads of state for genocide in its own court.
Congratulations to NISGUA, Guatemala, and humans everywhere.