Efraín Ríos Montt
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José Efraín Ríos Montt (1926–2018) was the de facto head of state of Guatemala from March 23, 1982 to August 8, 1983. He was one of a succession of repressive military dictators which ruled Guatemala following the CIA-backed coup in 1954. Ríos Montt himself (together with a group of junior army officers) obtained power in a preventative coup d'état against his predecessor Romeo Lucas García, who had rigged the 1982 Guatemalan elections in favor of his own defense minister Ángel Aníbal Guevara, to the chagrin of the Guatemalan Armed Forces. The coup was executed with covert support and financing from the CIA and U.S. MilGroup in Guatemala. Though an outspoken evangelical Christian, he evinced no familiarity with the Sixth Commandment as he presided over the one of the most repressive military dictatorships in modern Latin American history, far worse than Augusto Pinochet in both absolute and per-capita terms. During Ríos Montt's 17-month regime, the Guatemalan State (specifically the Armed Forces) murdered an estimated 15,000 civilians (many of them indigenous), "disappeared" at least 1,000 others and ordered 15 executions by firing squad following summary trials. Other human rights estimates put the number of dead and "disappeared" at over 70,000. A close friend of Israel and the Reagan administration, Ríos Montt was treated to military aid, training and weapons sales from both countries; US counterinsurgency advisors trained Ríos Montt's elite counterinsurgency units at the country's main military academy.
A convert from Catholicism to Pentecostalism, he was a leader of El Verbo Church. Ríos Montt attempted to stage a comeback in 2003, but only came in third in that year's presidential election on the ticket of the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG). His daughter married Illinois Republican congressman Jerry Weller in 2004.
Ríos Montt's trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity committed during his presidency began in March 2013. Charges included the killing of 1,771 indigenous people and displacement of an additional 29,000. He was convicted in May and sentenced to 80 years — 50 for genocide and 30 for crimes against humanity. This was the first time that a former head of state had been convicted of such crimes in their own country.
Following his death on April 1, 2018, Ríos Montt was lamented by then-president of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales. Perhaps, Morales' kind words were a formality applied to every passing of Guatemala's ex-leaders. However, given that Morales denied the existence of the genocide perpetrated by Ríos Montt and other leaders, it is possible he genuinely supported Ríos Montt.
- Schirmer, Jennifer G. The Guatemalan Military Project : a Violence Called Democracy. Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998. p. 21
- Guatemalan Human Rights Commission (CDHG), see Boletin internacional, no. 5 (8/1983) pg. 5
- Washington Post, 21 October 1982
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