Former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, convicted of genocide, is dead at 91

Former Guatemalan dictator Efrian Rios Montt is dead at 91
(Image credit: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images)

Guatemalan Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt took power in a coup as the head of a three-man junta on March 23, 1982, and over the next 17 months he escalated a scorched-earth campaign against Marxist guerrillas and indigenous Guatemalans. In his first five months as effective dictator, Guatemalan soldiers killed more than 10,000 peasants, almost all of them of Mayan descent, according to Amnesty International, and thousands more disappeared. Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide in 2013. He died Sunday in Guatemala City at age 91, his lawyers listing the cause of death as heart attack.

Ríos Montt was born in 1926 in the mountain town of Huehuetenango. He joined the military at a young age and was trained by the U.S. He first ran for president in 1973 as the reformist president of the center-left Christian Democrats, and when he lost in an election widely seen as rigged by the military, he was sent to Spain as a military attaché. He returned to Guatemala in the late 1970s, reinvented as a charismatic evangelical Christian preacher with ties to American evangelical leaders, schooled in a Dale Carnegie course in making friends and influencing people. He built an enthusiastic following.

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Peter Weber, The Week US

Peter has worked as a news and culture writer and editor at The Week since the site's launch in 2008. He covers politics, world affairs, religion and cultural currents. His journalism career began as a copy editor at a financial newswire and has included editorial positions at The New York Times Magazine, Facts on File, and Oregon State University.