Spring 2017 – Matthew Unangst Sample Research Assignment #1

Sample Research Assignment #1

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Title (type in post title field): Crimes of Genocide in Guatemala

In April 1913, former Guatemalan dictator General Efrian Rios Montt stood trial for the crime of genocide committed against indigenous Mayans during the early 1980s. Survivor Tiburcio Utuy recalled his captivity by Guatemalan military forces in the town of Sacapulas where he and others were tortured: “The shoes, the belts were piled two meters high and wide, you could see the traces of people who had been killed there.” [1] Forensic anthropologists testified that exhumed bodies revealed evidence of violent deaths of children, systematic rape of women, and mass beheadings. In other words, the evidence of genocide was overwhelming. But after testimony that lasted four weeks, a judge granted the defense’s request to annul the trial on technical grounds. The prosecution was expected to appeal the annulment. The genocide occurred amidst 36 years of conflict in Guatemala during which over 200,000 people died. Despite horrific levels of violence, the US administration of Ronald Reagan openly backed Rios Montt’s regime, claiming that his anticommunist stance was essential to US foreign policy in Central America. [2] The trial’s annulment raises questions about pressure from current US officials eager to prop up current Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina, who was an army commander during the genocide. The trial also raises historical questions about the deeper legacy of violence against indigenous people in Central America and the role of imperial powers in condoning that violence.

[1] Mary Jo McConahay, “Who Says There Was No Genocide?: Guatemalan Dictator on Trial,” La Prensa San Diego, April 26, 2013, http://ntserver1.wsulibs.wsu.edu:2182/docview/1349968225?accountid=14902 (accessed December 23, 2015).

[2] La Prensa San Diego, April 26, 2013.

Geographic focus: Guatemala, Central America (may also include Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador), Latin America.

Search terms: (race OR racism), Guatemala*, genocid*, indigenous, Maya*, histor*, Efrain Rios Montt, counterinsurgency.

*The asterisk at the end of the stump set of letters will give you multiple endings to the same root word. For example, histor* will include history, historical, historiography, histories.