Efraín Ríos Montt

His Excellency
General of Division

Efraín Ríos Montt
Rios Montt.png
26th President of Guatemala
In office
March 23, 1982 – August 8, 1983
Preceded byRomeo Lucas García
Succeeded byÓscar Humberto Mejía Víctores
President of the Congress of Guatemala
In office
January 14, 2000 – January 14, 2004
Vice PresidentZury Ríos
Preceded byLeonel Eliseo López Rodas
Succeeded byFrancisco Rolando Morales Chávez
Personal details
BornJosé Efraín Ríos Montt
(1926-06-16)June 16, 1926
Huehuetenango, Guatemala
DiedApril 1, 2018(2018-04-01) (aged 91)
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Political partyGuatemalan Republican Front
Spouse(s)María Teresa Sosa Ávila (m. 1953)
Children3 (including Zury Ríos Montt)
ProfessionClergy, General
Military service
Allegiance Guatemala
Service/branchGuatemalan Army
Years of service1951–1983

José Efraín Ríos Montt (Spanish pronunciation: [efɾaˈin ˈri.os ˈmont]; June 16, 1926 – April 1, 2018) was a Guatemalan general and politician who was born in Huehuetenango. A dictator, he served as President of Guatemala, taking power as a result of a coup d'état on March 23, 1982.[1] He was overthrown by his Defense Minister, Óscar Humberto Mejía Victores, in another coup d'état on August 8, 1983. In the 2003 presidential elections, Ríos Montt unsuccessfully ran as the candidate of the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG). In 2007 he returned to public office as a member of Congress, thereby gaining prosecutorial immunity. He was protected from a pair of long-running lawsuits alleging war crimes against him and a number of his former ministers and counselors during their term in the presidential palace in 1982–83.[2][3] His immunity ended on January 14, 2012, with the end of his term in legislative office. On January 26, 2012, he appeared in court in Guatemala and was formally indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity.[4]

Two Truth Commissions, the REMHI report, sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church, and the CEH report, conducted by the United Nations as part of the 1996 Accords of Firm and Durable Peace, documented widespread human rights abuses committed by Ríos Montt's military regime. These included widespread massacres, rapes, and torture against the indigenous population in what has been called a Guatemalan genocide. Ríos Montt said there was no government-ordered genocide, and that abuses were only the result of a long, violent civil war.[5] During his time as president, he had close ties to the United States, receiving direct and indirect support from several of its agencies, including the CIA.[6]

Ríos Montt's military regime was held accountable for constraining the guerrillas through what was known as the "guns and beans" campaign, telling the people "If you are with us, we’ll feed you, if not, we’ll kill you."[7] Guatemala's 36-year civil war only ended with the signing of a peace treaty in 1996. The civil war pitted Marxist rebels against the Guatemalan state, including the army. Huge numbers of civilians, both indigenous Mayas and mestizo Ladinos, were caught in the crossfire. Up to 200,000 Guatemalans were declared missing or killed during the conflict, making it one of Latin America's most violent wars.

Indigenous Mayas suffered disproportionately during Ríos Montt's rule. It is documented that his government deliberately targeted thousands of indigenous people since many were suspected of harboring sympathies for, supporting, or participating in the guerrilla movement. Under the Cold War-era strategy of containment the Guatemalan state sought to eliminate the spread of Communism inside its borders. The UN-backed Historical Clarification Commission found that the resulting counterinsurgency campaign, significantly designed and advanced during Ríos Montt's presidency, included deliberate "acts of genocide" against the indigenous population.[8][9][10]

On 28 January 2013, judge Miguel Angel Galves opened a pre-trial hearing against Ríos Montt and retired General José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity, in particular the killings of 1,771 Maya Ixil Indians, including children.[11][12] On 10 May 2013, Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, and was sentenced to 80 years imprisonment.[13] On 20 May 2013, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala overturned his conviction.[14][15] His retrial began January 2015.[16] A Guatemalan court had ruled he could stand trial for genocide and crimes against humanity, but could not be sentenced due to his age and deteriorating health conditions.[17]


Montt enrolled in the Military Academy of Guatemala in 1946. He attended the School of the Americas in 1951.[18] In 1954, the young officer played a minor role in the successful CIA-organized coup against President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán.

Following the coup, Ríos Montt rose swiftly through the army ranks, becoming deputy chief of staff in 1968. In 1970, under the military regime of President General Carlos Manuel Arana Osorio, he was promoted to brigadier general and chief of staff of Guatemalan Army.[19]

In 1973, Ríos Montt resigned from his post at the Washington embassy to participate in the March 1974 presidential elections as the candidate of the National Opposition Front (FNO). He lost the election to a rival right-wing candidate, General Kjell Eugenio Laugerud García, by 70,000 votes. Since Laugerud didn't get a majority, the election was thrown to the government-controlled National Congress, which promptly elected Laugerud. According to some accounts, Ríos Montt appeared to be on his way to a majority when the government abruptly halted the count and manipulated the results to make it appear Laugerud had won by a narrow plurality.[citation needed]

Ríos Montt denounced a "massive electoral fraud", blaming his defeat on a conspiracy from the Catholic Church and the Mayan minority. Ríos Montt especially viewed Catholic priests as leftist agents who had questioned the mistreatment of the Catholic Mayas. Ríos Montt resolved and stated that "he would one day even the score."[20] It is alleged that he was given a payoff of several hundred thousand dollars along with the post of military attaché in the embassy in Madrid, Spain, where he stayed until retiring in 1977.[21]

In 1978, he left the Roman Catholic Church and became a minister in the U.S. "aligned right-wing fundamentalist church" evangelical/pentecostal Church of the Word, a sect headquartered in Eureka, California[22][23][20] later Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson became personal friends. Ríos Montt joined the movement and assumed the role of becoming a teacher of the religion. Ríos Montt's brother Mario Enrique Ríos Montt is a Catholic bishop, and in 1998 succeeded the assassinated Bishop Juan Gerardi as head of the human rights commission uncovering the truth of the disappearances associated with the military and his brother.[citation needed]

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