On Monday, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ordered the trial of Efraín Ríos Montt overturned and reset to an earlier point in April when it was challenged by another judge. Mr. Ríos Montt, who ruled Guatemala for 17 months in 1982 and 1983, had been sentenced to 80 years on genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the country’s 36-year civil war.
After the ruling, Mr. Ríos Montt was briefly sent to jail before being moved to a military hospital. On Tuesday, he was set to return to house arrest, as he was during his trial.
The ruling came after a public push by Guatemala’s powerful business chamber to overturn the verdict, a development analysts said on Tuesday called into question the court’s independence.
Guatemala has a history of trials of military men being blocked through appeals to higher courts that are manipulated by the small country’s powerful elites, said Anita Isaacs, a professor at Haverford College. “There is a link between the court system and powerful economic interests in Guatemala,” she said.
The court’s annulment of the sentence also points to weaknesses in the case itself, which became highly politicized in Guatemala. Michael Waller, a foreign-policy expert who worked in Central America in the 1980s, said the judge had overreached with her genocide conviction. “It was a nasty war in Guatemala but it wasn’t genocide,” he said.
More on the case here.