Speed Reads


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

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.

After he was deposed in 1983, Ríos Montt served in Congress, with his final term — and immunity from prosecution — ending in 2012. He was put on trial in 2013, and after a five-month hearing, he was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity for the massacres of 1,771 unarmed men, women, and children in 15 Mayan villages. Judge Yasmín Barrios sentenced him to 80 years in prison, though Guatemala's high court overturned the conviction 10 days later. He is survived by his wife, a son who resigned as army chief of staff after being charged with embezzlement, and a daughter, Zury, who is married to former U.S. Rep. Gerald Weller (R-Ill.). You can read more about Ríos Montt at The New York Times.