Unmasking Claudia Paz y Paz, Guatemala’s Human-Rights Diva

By: Steve Hecht and David Landau - Jul 20, 2015, 7:03 pm

Editor’s note: you can also read parts two, three, four, five, and six in this series.

Three Falsehoods in Five Words

Español“Georgetown University is one of the world’s leading academic and research institutions.” That’s how the university describes itself.

But Georgetown’s use of its prestige to elevate Guatemala’s former attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz, to star status raises questions about the direction the university has taken.

At its most recent commencement ceremony, May 17, Georgetown awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree to Paz y Paz. Last year, soon after failing to win a second term in office, Paz y Paz was welcomed as a scholar in residence at Georgetown, with a joint appointment at the Law Center and the Institute for Women, Peace and Security.

In the notes for the commencement program, Georgetown’s annotator said of Paz y Paz that she “was the first woman to hold the position of attorney general of Guatemala. She assumed this role in 2010 and pursued cases against organized criminals and perpetrators of human rights abuses. A criminal law specialist, scholar, judge and litigator, she has worked for over 18 years to strengthen the justice system in Guatemala.”

The program note added: “In 2012, Forbes named her one of the ‘five most powerful women changing the world.’ She received the Judith Lee Stronach Human Rights Award in 2013.”

Anyone wanting to gain a perspective of Georgetown and Paz y Paz would do well to start with those two items: the citation by Forbesand the human-rights award.

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security was launched in December 2011 by Hillary Clinton as its honorary founding director. The citation in Forbes was arranged by Ambassador Melanne Verveer, who worked for Clinton as the US envoy for women’s issues and also became the Georgetown institute’s executive director. Clinton spent much of her term as secretary of state promoting Paz y Paz and her agenda.

Georgetown, then, was bragging about an award to Paz y Paz that two of its own directors had engineered. The university might have found a more graceful way to pat itself on the back.

But the real disfigurement of truth set in with the Judith Lee Stronach Human Rights Award. That award is administered by the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), a San Francisco outfit that claims to be “the leading U.S-based organization pursuing international human rights abusers through litigation.”

In granting its 2013 award to Paz y Paz, the CJA said: “She is the first Guatemalan law enforcement official to prosecute those responsible for human rights abuses committed by the military dictatorship controlled by then president and General Ríos Montt, including the genocide of over 200,000 Mayans.”

The alleged crime took place in the early 1980s, at the height of a 36-year internal conflict that came close to destroying the country.

The phrase “genocide of over 200,000 Mayans” is an atrocity of another kind. It contains three falsehoods in the space of five words, not to mention a case of inferior grammar. The only fully realized term in the phrase is the preposition, “of.”

Genocide: if the CJA want to claim that genocide occurred in Guatemala, they must first rewrite the dictionary, as well as history. Other people have tried to do so, but the word “genocide” and the facts of history have so far proved to be bigger than they are.

Paz y Paz’s Justice Ministry did obtain a conviction of Ríos Montt in 2013 on the charge of genocide. However, that conviction was rapidly overturned for irregularities in the trial — major ones, far beyond technicalities.

A new trial is in process. For now, the value of the genocide case as a precedent is nil. If the case were to triumph as the result of a political or judicial fix, as often happens in Guatemala, its value would be negative.

The figure 200,000 has nothing to do with the case against Ríos Montt. It is the figure widely, and rather dubiously, cited for the total number of deaths everywhere in Guatemala stemming from the 36-year conflict. Its use in reference to the Ríos Montt case is pure misinformation.

So, too, is the word “Mayans.” The Mayans were an ancient tribe that went the way of the biblical Hebrews. Today the name is used as a rallying-cry; it is polemical, not descriptive.

Here is the readily available factual truth concerning these matters: at his trial, Ríos Montt was accused in the deaths of 1,771 Ixils

That’s less than one-hundredth of the number used by the CJA, and another tribe to boot. The Ixils, descendants of the Mayans, are an indigenous people who live in northwest Guatemala.

Another layer of fact: many Ixils are supporters of Ríos Montt. Outside the courtroom in which Ríos Montt was convicted, large numbers of Ixils came from far and wide to demonstrate on his behalf.

Ixils of Guatemala march to oppose Claudia Paz y Paz and defend Ríos Montt at his trial: "The guerrila = blood, pain, death, and tears. (Steve Hecht)
Ixils of Guatemala march to defend Ríos Montt at his trial: “The guerrilla = blood, pain, death, and tears.” (Steve Hecht)

And a proposition: if Ríos Montt had actually committed genocide, those massive gatherings of Ixils would have been the same as crowds of Hebrews — excuse us, of Jews — defending Hitler.

In the global scheme, the CJA and its mistakes are a trifle; but not so the dissemination of those errors by a world-class educational institution. In celebrating Paz y Paz’s record, Georgetown gave its imprimatur to the misstatements and spread them to the four corners.

As it happens, Georgetown has done the same thing with its treatment of Paz y Paz and her legacy. In parallel, the US State Department, beginning with Hillary Clinton, has given substantial help to Paz y Paz and has fostered policies that invite chaos throughout the hemisphere.

It’s time for a good look at the Paz y Paz record — the kind of look that Georgetown University, and US officials, would probably prefer you didn’t get.

Steve Hecht and David Landau Steve Hecht and David Landau

The authors have worked together in Guatemalan political matters for 20 years. Steve Hecht (pictured), a businessman with two degrees from Columbia University, has lived in Guatemala for more than four decades. David Landau, based in San Francisco, cut his journalistic teeth as managing editor of the Harvard Crimson. He is an expert on Cuba and publisher of Pureplay Press. Follow @shecht6.

Cuba Opens Embassy in the Shadow of More Political Arrests

By: Belén Marty - @belenmarty - Jul 20, 2015, 4:20 pm

Español“With or without the embassy, the Cuban government will continue to do whatever they want.” These words from Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White democratic opposition, have been echoed by dissidents across the island and abroad. As she and others have documented, the Cuban flag may now fly over the embassy in Washington, DC, but the regime has continued with heavy-handed arrests against peaceful human-rights activists. Their warnings preceded this morning, July 20, when the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations, confirmed by the opening of the Cuban embassy at the US capital. The entourage of Cuban guests included Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, pro-Castro activists, artists, and veterans of the revolution, who celebrated and sang the Cuban national anthem. Songs such as “Alerta, alerta, aquel que camine, el ejército de Cuba por América Latina” (Alert, alert, he who is walking, the army of Cuba is in Latin America”) and “Viva Cuba, Viva Raul” could be heard by anyone near the embassy. However, Rosa María Payá, the daughter of a political dissident likely murdered by the Castros, said that the Cuban flag "represents the Cuban people, but the people inside that embassy represent no one. Because no one chose them." In the days prior, General Raúl Castro said to Cubans via state television that a new stage was about to begin, “long and complex on the road to normalization.” What the Communist Party chief meant remains to be seen, since his agents arrested dozens of activists on Sunday, mere hours before the start of the diplomatic ceremony. Daniel Ferrrer, coordinator of the Patriotic Cuban Party, confirmed with the PanAm Post that more than 70 activists, included women, were detained on Sunday. Cuban state police have been doing this, Ferrer says, for 14 consecutive Sundays, either before or after traditional mass at the Santa Rita Church in the capital. “Most of the arrests were in Havana and included political dissidents such as Berta Soler, Antonio Rodiles, Ángel Moya, and Jorge luis 'Antunez' Garcia,” Ferrer explained. He added that there were other arrests reported in Guantánamo province. Before the arrests took place, activists were marching along Fifth Avenue in Havana, and looking forward to joining rock musician Gorki Águila in Gandhi Park. He was among the crowd, along with Ángel Santiesteban, a recently released political prisoner, after two years behind bars. "I know that if the police arrest me they will revoke my release [and send me back to jail], but I have to be here today, to give my two cents with respect to the rights and freedoms of other people imprisoned," Santiesteban explained. Ferrer noted that the repression continued, just like any other Sunday: "During week days, Cubans also witness these kinds of arrests, which demonstrate the policy of the Castro brothers, to suppress all kinds of peaceful activism and violate human rights.” In the week prior, the Cuban regime detained at least 120 dissidents. Further, a recent report from the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami documents that Cuban agents carried out more than 2,000 arrests for purely political reasons between April and June this year. As for the opening of the US embassy in Cuba, Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Havana on August 14 to raise the flag on the island. It will mark the first time since 1945 that a US secretary of state has visited Cuba. Calls to End the Embargo Dictator Castro has demanded that US President Barack Obama, as part of the normalization of relations, lift the economic embargo on Cuba, established in 1962. "We hope that Obama continues to use his executive powers to dismantle aspects of this policy, that is causing damage and hardship to our people," Castro said at the Cuban Communist Parliament last Wednesday, although no foreign press were allowed to attend. Obama has already petitioned Congress on the matter, but has faced strident opposition, particularly from Cubans such as Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). Ana Rosa Quintana, a Latin America policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation and the daughter of Cuban exiles, refuses to acknowledge the embassy. She says “the only embargo that needs to be lifted is that of the Cuban government against the Cuban people.”

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