Shakespeare and the Hard Road of Justice

Foul deeds will rise, Though all the world o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes.Foul deeds will rise,
Though all the world o’erwhelm them, to men’s eyes.”

(Hamlet, act 1, sc. 2)

Comment. A victory, or even a partial victory for justice are uneasy accomplishments in the age of unrestrained imperialism and unrestrained capitalism. Therefore the occurrence of even a partial victory is an occasion for celebration. And, as King Philip of France would say,

“To solemnize this day, the glorious sun
Stays his course, and plays the alchymist;
Turning, with splendour of his precious eye,
The meagre cloddy earth to glittering gold.”
(King John, 4,3)

A Guatemalan court has sentenced former US-backed Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt to 80 years in prison after being found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity.  Ríos Montt was convicted of overseeing the slaughter of more than 1,700 people in the Guatemala’s Ixil region after seizing power in 1982. In its own way the ruling is historic. It marks the first time when a former head of state is found guilty of genocide in his own country. The judge in the case has also instructed prosecutors to launch an immediate investigation of “all others” connected to the crimes.

The current Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina was among those implicated during the trial’s testimony as he served as a commander in Ríos Montt’s regime. In fact, he bitterly fought to stop the trial and, of course, has denied that there was any genocide. In a TV interview, he said that the verdict would “discourage foreign investment in Guatemala” (Translation: multinational corporations could (perhaps) no longer be able to employ slave labor and call the state to execute those who attempt to organize a union, as in fact it happened with the convicted criminal).

In fact, at this very moment, Canadian and US corporations are attempting to mine gold and silver in land where the indigenous Mayans live, against their bitter opposition. Community organizers have been killed and Pérez Molina has imposed a state of siege in various parts of the country. Very recently, the local press printed a wiretap transcript of the head of security at one of these mines, (the San Rafael mining operation), where the security chief says to his men, regarding demonstrators who were outside the mine, he says, “Goddamn dogs, they do not—they do not understand that the mine generates jobs. We must eliminate these animal pieces of [s.t]. We cannot allow people to establish resistance. Kill those sons of [b…s].” And the security people later opened fire.  As journalist Allain Nairn (who provided this information) said, “This is the way foreign companies operate, not just in Guatemala, but around the world. I mean, it’s this kind of non-enforcement of law that made possible the Bangladesh factory collapse that killed over a thousand workers.”

It is a partial victory, as the judgment will be appealed. And, given a long list of historical precedents, “pressure” will be applied to make sure that unrestricted and destructive capitalism has its way. After all, in recent history (1954), the US, at the behest of the Dole Company, invaded Guatemala after the citizens had democratically elected President Arbenz. Then there was the danger of communism and Guatemala stood to lose its well-earned title of “banana republic”. Now, we’ll have to wait and see.

So far, when corporations have cast the eye of covetousness on the resources of a foreign country, they have won. They can summon military, sabotaging and countless other resources to “establish democracy”, such as the one managed and administered by the subject convicted criminal. While at home, the same multinationals can safely count on the vain and credulous flattery of the corporate media.

There is one interesting twist. Ronald Reagan called Montt “a man of great personal integrity”. But that’s no wonder, so was Augusto Pinochet of Chile and the (now convicted) murderers of the Argentine junta. At least until, indulging themselves in a very false and favorable opinion of their own abilities, they irritated Britain by invading the Falklands.

The twist has to do with the US involvement. The Guatemalan army used a strategy of massacre. They would wipe out villages that did not submit to army rule.  In an interview with a journalist at the time, the soldiers described how they would conduct interrogations. They asked, “Who here gives food to the insurgents? Who here criticizes the government?” And if they didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear, they would strangle them to death, or they would slit their throats.

If the people being questioned were women and they were pregnant, they would slit them open with machetes. They would make people dig mass graves. They would then make them watch as they shot their neighbors in the head, in the face, in the back of the skull. And this just happened in village after village after village.

It wasn’t an armed confrontation, because the villagers were unarmed. The soldiers were armed with American and Israeli weapons. The villagers were not. It was straight-up murder.

The strategy had been developed in conjunction with the U.S. In fact, the U.S. military attache in Guatemala at the time, Colonel George Maynes proudly stated that that he himself had helped develop what he orwellianly called “village sweep” tactic. There was a U.S. trainer there, an American Green Beret, who was training the military,  This was, in his words, a “technique” of how to subdue towns, and that’s what they did. Now Ríos Montt has been convicted for it. Will the US military trainers be arraigned and brought to justice? Will Elliot Abrams and other policy-making officials of the Reagan Administration? It’s very unlikely, of course, but a narrow path has been open in the wilderness of injustice and crimes against humanity.

Montt attempted to get away from the Court when the sentence was pronounced, but the judge ordered him arrested and taken to prison immediately.

Rigoberta Menchu, Nobel Peace Prize winner, present in Court said, “It’s a very big day for Guatemala. It’s a very big day for those of us who have defended our lives in difficult circumstances, very painful circumstances of great isolation, of exile. It looks like our period of pain is ending, because we hope that from now on we will be accepted by Guatemalan society, in our polarized society, the society that carries the burden of past genocide on their backs.”

For once foul deeds have risen to men’s eyes, though the criminals involved believed they could perennially overwhelm them.

In the play. Hamlet has a presentment after Horatio’s report about the appearance of the ghost.

Image Source: Miniature from a 1600 illustration of Dante’s Divine Comedy. http://www.google.it/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&docid=KNJBZBUrzcCwXM&tbnid=npMUYQJN1IldNM:&ved=0CAUQjRw&url=http%3A%2F%2F193.226.7.140%2F~leonardo%2Fn12%2FLaszlo12.htm&ei=OIqSUcOiEuStiALZ14CoAw&bvm=bv.46471029,d.cGE&psig=AFQjCNGQQIkQExBfjqBQgNg5FUgJJzfOGA&ust=1368644527730197

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