It didn't work.
When soldiers found them, they lashed Chavez's sister to the stairs of their home, he testified. The soldiers then set the house on fire, killing her and her two children, Chavez testified. Seven other family members may have died in the fire, he said.
Chavez, like many other survivors, lived to share his story because he fled into the unforgiving mountains.
That's how Maria Cruz Raymundo and her family escaped, too. But conditions there were so harsh that her husband, daughter and son starved to death, she told the court.
More than 100 witnesses have taken the stand so far -- a marathon of gruesome stories.
Another witness, Nicholas Bernal, testified that he, too, escaped to the mountains.
Bernal told the court he had watched soldiers kill his neighbors and then rip out their hearts and burn their bodies.
Each passing day of the trial reveals similar nightmarish stories. Human rights organizations such as the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights and Association for Justice and Reconciliation are broadcasting the trial live on the Internet. In addition, the U.S.-based Open Society Justice Initiative is providing daily summaries on a dedicated website. Testimony in this report is culled from all these sources and state news media.
Shifting U.S. behavior
When Rios Montt assumed power in a coup in 1982, Guatemala was already in the throes of a violent civil war that would last 36 years. The insurgency, and extrajudicial killings by the military, had been going on for two decades as part of the broader conflicts between leftist rebels and hardline governments across the region.
By the time a peace accord was reached in 1996, an estimated more than 200,000 had perished.
Rios Montt faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity connected to his 16 months as dictator. He is being tried together with his then-chief of military intelligence, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez.
Sanchez is accused of designing and executing the army's strategy.
When Rios Montt became president, human rights violations had already prompted the United States to cut off aid to the Guatemalan government. But a political scandal in the U.S. in the 1990s revealed that in fact the CIA continued to provide money to Guatemalan military intelligence sources for years during the civil war.
Now-declassified secret CIA cables indicate that the United States had knowledge of the atrocities being committed against the Ixil Mayans, but did little about them, according to Victoria Sanford, director of the Center for Human Rights & Peace Studies at the City University of New York.
"At best they chose to look away, but often they were covering it up," Sanford said.
In one CIA document, from February 1983, the agency reports to Washington that an increase in violence against civilians is because of "right-wing violence."
But the U.S. ambassador at the time added a note to the same memo with a distinct explanation: "I am firmly convinced that the violence described ... is government of Guatemala ordered and directed violence."
Another CIA memo shows the U.S. government may have had knowledge of the violent tactics being used against the Ixil Mayans.
"When an army patrol meets resistance and takes fire from a town or village it is assumed that the entire town is hostile and it is subsequently destroyed," the 1982 document states. "The well-documented belief by the army that the entire Ixil Indian population is (pro-rebel) has created a situation in which the army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants and non-combatants alike."
Critics blame the United States, in its anti-communist zeal, of standing by during these atrocities by denying them and lifting the arms embargo. Then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan went as far as to say that Rios Montt was being given a "bum rap" by critics. At the same time, the United States was backing other strongmen in Latin America against leftists.
But if the United States deserves criticism for openly supporting Rios Montt's rule, it also should be credited for supporting Guatemalan efforts to put the former dictator on trial, said Anita Isaacs, a professor of political science at Haverford College whose research focuses on Guatemalan politics.
She is a fierce critic of the U.S. role in the 1980s, but adds that "this trial wouldn't be occurring were it not for the role played by the United States pushing for reform in Guatemala's judicial system."
In her view, the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala from 2008 to 2011, Stephen McFarland, was "single-handedly" responsible for shifting the country's perception of the United States from meddling to supportive.
McFarland listened to survivors' stories of the civil war and attended hearings in support of the victims, she said.