As the world notes with sorrow the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, probably very few people outside of Guatemala noticed the death at 91 of King's human opposite, Efrain Rios Montt, organizer of the genocide against the Ixil Maya during the 1980s. This genocide was part of a thirty year civil war that ended with a truce agreement in 1996.
Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in 2013. That decision was overturned on procedural grounds and was being retried, but the historical verdict is beyond dispute. The fact that he was convicted of committing these crimes marked a major turning point in Guatemala's history. His death ends an era. His long life after a seventeen month long presidency cast a horrible shadow over the country he ruled.
Montt was a military officer who came to power in a coup in March 1982. The generals embarked upon a campaign of extermination against the Ixil Maya. Amnesty International concluded that he was responsible 10,000 deaths and the displacement of unnumbered tens of thousands more.
The New York Times obituary quoted George Mason University scholar Jo-Marie Burt on Rios Montt's trial: "For Guatemala it broke ground that these people are no longer untouchable." Under the Same Moon supporters feel that we are doing our little bit to build on that new ground.