500 Years

Bertha Journalism


Paco de Onis


Pamela Yates


Production support

Impact campaign support


A CIA engineered military coup in Guatemala destroys a nascent democracy and unleashes a tragic 60-year saga of military dictatorships, genocide against the Mayan people, and mass migration to the U.S. In an inspiring show of resilience, we see Mayan leaders in the present lead a resistance movement to protect their culture, their ancestral lands, and seek justice for the genocide, resulting in the first trial in the history of the Americas to judge the genocide of indigenous peoples, exposing a history of entrenched violence, systemic racism and impunity.

The trial galvanizes the resistance, growing into a mass movement to bring down the government and build a new inclusive democracy. But behind the scenes, the U.S. still plays a crucial role - will it support the status quo, or take this opportunity to support a new democracy and right a historical wrong? 500 Years is the third part of our trilogy of the Guatemalan saga, and continues the story of our films When the Mountains Tremble (1983) and Granito: How to Nail a Dictator (2011).

After centuries of colonial and caudillo (strongman) rule in Guatemala, a social uprising in 1944 put the country's first democratically elected president, Juan José Arévalo, in office and kicked off a politically progressive 10-year period known as the "Guatemalan Spring". The “Spring” ended in 1954 when the CIA engineered a military coup hatched to protect the interests of the United Fruit Company.

This foreign policy intervention by the U.S. would revert Guatemala to the status of a banana republic for the next 60 years. During those years, Guatemala was embroiled in an armed conflict and ruled by ruthless military dictatorships that committed genocide against the Mayan people fighting to protect their ancestral lands - resulting in 150,000 Mayans killed.Following peace accords in 1996, a truth commission concluded that acts of genocide had occurred in Guatemala, setting the stage for Mayan survivors to embark on a quest for justice.

This quest resulted in the first trial in the history of the Americas where the genocide of indigenous peoples was tried in a court of law. After 15 years of overcoming legal delays and obstructions, the genocide trial of former dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt began in March 2013, and that is where our story begins. The symbolic and precedent setting nature of this trial for all indigenous peoples cannot be overestimated, yet this aspect of the story went missing in domestic and international news reports. Our film, 500 Years, will bring that story to light.