Military Expert’s Testimony Implicates Rios Montt

Kristin Donovan and Carrie Anne Comer

In the course of his expert testimony, retired Peruvian general, military expert and consultant in Guatemala, Rodolfo Robles Espina, described at length the rigid command structure of the Guatemalan Army and the well-coordinated military plans developed and executed under Rios Montt’s command. He confirmed that Rios Montt and the military High Command (made up of the President as Commander-in-Chief, the Minister of Defense and the Head of the Estado Mayor del Ejército) had knowledge of massacres and grave human rights violations being carried out by the army against the Ixil people and failed to act to stop the violence even though they had the power to do so. Testifying that the army was structured in such a way to prevent any deviation from the military plan authorized by the High Command, Robles implied that the violations carried out against the Ixil were sanctioned by the highest military officials. 

Robles testified that the national and region military plans created in 1982, Plan Victoria and Plan Sofia, were extensions of Rios Montt’s political vision set forth in his National Security and Development Plan, which linked socioeconomic development with a military strategy of counterinsurgency. Robles stated that Rios Montt set the political groundwork for the military operations, affirming that there existed “a perfect coherence between strategic plans, tactical plans and the National Security and Development Plan which is a political plan”. 

In practice, Plan Sofia led to a systematic pattern of violations against the Ixil people, according to Robles, including massacres, rape, the burning of villages and destruction of property, and other human rights violations. Robles explained how the army pursued survivors who fled into the mountains and subjected them to “forced reeducation” in army-run camps. He also described the use civilian self-defense patrols, known as PACs, to force the Ixil to kill and torture their own people. 

Robles went on to state that military operations carried out by the Guatemalan Army at this time, which combined both ground and air forces, demonstrated a high degree of planning and coordination and that the High Command was kept informed of all developments on the ground “in real time” through channels of military intelligence. He described “an immediate and direct channel of information” between intelligence officers of the Fuerza de Tarea Gumarcaj, the task force deployed in the Ixil region, and the national directorate of intelligence. Robles concludes that Rios Montt and the High Command were aware of the violations being committed against the Ixil people by the troops but did nothing to stop it. Since Rios Montt had “absolute command” over the army, Robles stated that “with one order from him, he could have changed the entire situation”. 

Towards the end of this testimony, Robles described how Plan Sofia explicitly permitted soldiers to attack vulnerable populations, including women, children and the elderly, when the success of the mission was at stake. By requiring troops to respect women and children to the extent possible, Robles stated that Plan Sofia gave soldiers an excuse to commit atrocities against vulnerable civilian populations and opened the door to impunity. 

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