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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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." 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.
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. On 10 May 2013, Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, and was sentenced to 80 years imprisonment. On 20 May 2013, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala overturned his conviction. His retrial began January 2015. 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.