Guatemala genocide trial hits hurdles at outset

Story highlights

  • The retrial of Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide started this week
  • Rios Montt is a former dictator of Guatemala
  • An earlier conviction for genocide was annulled

Guatemala City (CNN)It took 19 months for the new genocide trial for former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt to get under way, but just hours for it to be suspended.

The high-profile prosecution of Rios Montt, who is accused of allowing the massacres of more than 1,700 indigenous Ixil Mayans in the early 1980s, dates back to 2012. He was convicted in May 2013, a verdict that was overturned 10 days later on procedural grounds.
    A retrial, which opened Monday, was characterized by the twists and delays that marked earlier proceedings.
    The accused did not show up in court. Lawyers for Rios Montt argued that the 88-year-old was too sick to attend the trial.
    Rios Montt has maintained since the beginning that he did not order the massacres.
    The three-judge panel rejected the motion to delay the trial because of Rios Montt's health, and ordered him to appear. Rios Montt eventually made his entrance, strapped on a gurney, covered with a blanket and wearing sunglasses.
    The presiding judge, Irma Valdez, called Rios Montt's absence "unjustifiable," according to the state-run AGN news agency. Then she herself became the object of further complications.
    The former dictator's defense demanded that Valdez recuse herself because of a thesis she wrote for a master's degree 10 years ago. The topic of the paper? A legal analysis of the crime of genocide as it relates to the atrocities committed during the period Rios Montt was in power.
    The defense argued that Valdez had formed an opinion -- namely, that genocide did occur in Guatemala -- and therefore she could not be impartial.
    The judges agreed that Valdez must recuse herself, and now the trial is susp