Former stand-up comedian and current Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales did not mean to joke when he emphasized Sunday the "exemplary" work done by the army despite the overwhelming evidence it is responsible for systematic murder and human rights abuses in the country.
In a speech at an Army Day ceremony—an event that was prohibited for over a decade out of respect for the victims of the military genocide—the president said that "the army has been an exemplary institution contributing its abilities for the benefit of the public."
Morales praised the army's role in helping during and after natural disasters, maintaining security, combating drug trafficking and in international peacekeeping missions.
It has been an ongoing role, Morales said, that increases the "confidence that the people feel for their army."
Meanwhile, Defense Minister William Mansilla told reporters that they wanted the army once again to conduct parades on public streets, after participating in the commemorative acts for the 145th anniversary of the Revolution of 1871 and Army Day.
Initially, the government had announced that the army would parade through the capital's downtown, a resurrection of the traditional parade suspended in 2008 by social-democrat President Alvaro Colom so as not to offend the memory of the victims of the 1960-1996 military repression that left some 200,000 dead, 80 percent of them by the armed forces.
However, the controversy the planned parade generated forced the government to backtrack to guarantee public calm and "coexistence."
The parade was ultimately held on Sunday at the Central Air Command precinct before more than 2,000 guests.
Mansilla said that "it was a spontaneous demonstration by the population that believes and trusts in its army," denying accusations that military families were obligated to attend the event.
The defense minister said that public approval of the armed forces is above 70 percent, and he expressed his confidence that the troops will once again parade in public "in the future."
Morales' party Convergence is backed by a number of other former military officials who were in power for almost 40 years, a period that the U.N. said amounted to genocide against Guatemala’s Indigenous population. Edgar Justino Ovalle Maldonado is one of these officials, the co-founder of the party and one of the president’s top advisers.
Ovalle Maldonado is being prosecuted for his role in leading military operations in the Quiche region where 77 massacres took place during the country’s most horrific period of genocide during the early 1980s.