What is most surprising about Almudena Bernabeu is how remarkably upbeat she is. As an attorney who spends her professional life defending the rights of people who have suffered torture and genocide, she has seen the worst side of human nature, and yet she still has the capacity to experience the joy not just of winning a case, such as the one she has been prosecuting against General Rios Montt, but of bringing it in the first place. The documentary by Pamela Yates, GRANITO, covers the struggle to bring Montt to justice. When I spoke to her on February 14, 2012, yes, Valentine’s Day, I found a woman who understands the odds when it comes to challenging the status quo, but is not deterred. The conversation includes how she used footage from one of Yates’ previous docs, WHEN THE MOUNTAINS TREMBLED, to help make her case against Montt, updates on the proceedings, and the role of secret archives in the United States played an integral part in those proceedings. She also humored my curiosity about how she remains so positive before bringing me up to date on one of her many other ongoing cases, one concerning the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador.
Bernabeu talks about her part in bringing justice to the victims of the Guatemalan Genocide of the early 1980s as the lead private prosecutor representing the victims of the systematic genocide of over 200,000 people ordered by General Rios Montt. She had spent many years building a case that could stand up in a Spanish court of law, heard there under the principle of universal jurisdiction in matters of crimes against humanity. It was during this time that Bernabeu realized that Pamela Yates’ documentary WHEN THE MOUNTAINS TREMBLED contained key pieces of evidence both within the film and its outtakes. Bernabeu is an attorney at the Center for Justice and Accountability, a non-profit human-rights law firm in San Francisco where she leads their Latin America and Transitional Justice programs. She has brought cases against human rights abusers in El Salvador, Columbia, and Peru for atrocities ranging from torture to genocide. She is Vice President of the Spanish Association for Human Rights and her most recent honor, aside from nailing a dictator, is the Katherine and Alexander Law Prize from the University of Santa Clara.