Military terror dictatorships are stupid, fragile systems.
They survive by total suppression.
And since total-anything is hard to maintain they are vulnerable in the long run.
That's one reason why rich, dominant people all over have been learning for decades now that simply shooting others in the head is not the only way to maintain privilege.
Democratic free elections work too, so long as you're free to pick candidates and issues and purchase ads and influence. And a free press can work nicely as well so long as you're free to own the presses.
So you have a proliferation of non-dictator regimes in which working people are still underpaid or starving and those on top are still meritlessly rich beyond the dreams of any type of necessity.
But since such regimes are also democratic and their press is free, they escape destabilizing quantities of condemnation for freedom-of-expression or human rights abuses.
It's beautiful, you have your cake and eat it too, you bask in enlightened acclaim but at the same time you can fly to Rio on a whim while those who work for you have kids who are hungry.
But one weakness in such regimes from a top-down point of view is that by tolerating some space you run the risk that now and then someone will say or do something that cuts a little too close to the bone.
Such is the effort to finish the criminal trial of the ex terror dictator General Rios Montt, the onetime US protege who once lorded over Guatemala.
Rios Montt is 86. He lost power in '83.
Washington lost use for and washed their hands of him before some current US lawmakers were born, and the Guatemalan elite decided a while ago that it was worth their while to let him hang.*
But that was before the trial began.
What came out was not much new.
But this time as the heroic survivors spoke, their words were being chiseled in stone.
"They killed my father..."
"They burnt our homes..."
"They raped me, one after the other...."
This was no longer policy, it was crime. A court reporter took everything down.
Unlike much political speech, words in such a setting don't tend to evaporate.
Thus sanctified on the official record, this commonplace, everyday truth that the rulers were rapists and murderers began emitting an ominous glow.
"This is a very dangerous case, for everyone," says a Guatemalan dissident from a well-off family.
Beyond the dimension of the testimony being official, it was also starting to circulate.
In some cases it was lodging at the front of people's minds. The rythm of repetition is powerful.
"The elite was ready to throw over Rios Montt, but they didn't properly anticipate how things would go. If you have a month of people talking about massacres and massacres and massacres, and women's bellies being slit open, all of a sudden it dawned on them, even if they were willing to let Rios Montt collapse the information was too much of a cost."
"They can see the political effect. Its in the air, you can see it online. They recently concluded: 'God, it's just too much.'"
They stepped in and shut the case down; it's dead, but, for this man and others, not yet finally buried.
In Guatemala, the notion of resurrection matters.
Even as the army was crucifying the nation, people paused to celebrate Easter.
Sunday of the Resurrection was and is preceded in Guatemala by Holy Monday through Holy Saturday.
Guatemalans, as a people, are not predisposed to rule out comebacks.
* Hang figuratively, that is. Guatemala has de facto abolished the death penalty, unlike the US, China and Saudi Arabia.
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