Efraín Ríos Montt
by Nicholas Dessanti

1) Profile of your leader

Efraín Ríos Montt is a politician, hailing from Guatemala, who is known for being one of the most brutal dictators in his short reign of one and a half years. He started his political career as a military officer who led an uprising against the dictator President Romeo Lucas García. Once the dictator was overthrown, Montt took over as the de facto President, and continued the military regime. He disregarded human rights, and took severe action against the guerrilla who protested against him. He permitted his army to mercilessly target the whole ethnic group of Mayans, in the process torturing and murdering them. Ironically, the US government of Ronald Reagan supported Efraín in his activities, stating publicly that the state of human rights in Guatemala was better than before. A year later, he was replaced by his defence minister Óscar Victores. Ríos made several unsuccessful attempts at becoming the President thereafter but was barred from the elections because of his violent rule before. During this time he was elected as the President of the Congress, a unicameral legislature or having a single legislative chamber, in Guatemala.

2) Audio/Visual/Artistic Element

  • Efrain Rios Montt was convicted of having crimes against humanity and genocide. In recent times, he has been arrested and tried on several occasions for genocide against the Mayans, on the basis of allegations by ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ winner Rigoberta Menchú. The case against Rios Montt was brought on behalf of the 1,771 indigenous people were killed, tortured, subjected to sexual violence or displaced.
  • Prosecutors allege that Rios Montt was responsible for the killing of thousands indigenous Mayans, the displacement of 29,000, and the rape and torture of others during 15 massacres. Nearly half of all reported violations during the bloody 36-year war occurred in 1982, the year in which Rios Montt came to power.

3) Creative Piece

Friday May 10, 2013Nicholas Dessanti reports on the unpredictable trial of Ríos Montt:
  • A historic trial against former U.S.-supported Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity came to an abrupt end Thursday when an appeals court suspended the trial before a criminal court was scheduled to reach a verdict. Investigative journalist, Giancarlo Sladic reported last night Guatemalan army associates had threatened the lives of judges and prosecutors and that the case had been declared invalid after interference by Guatemala’s president, General Otto Pérez Molina. Ríos Montt was the first head of state in the Americas to stand trial for genocide. He was charged in connection with the slaughter of more than 1,700 people in Guatemala’s Ixil region after he seized power in 1982. His 17-month rule is seen as one of the bloodiest chapters in Guatemala’s history. On Thursday, survivors of the genocide attempted to approach Ríos Montt inside the courtroom, threatening and screaming, "You are are murderer, I will hunt you down one day", while others in pure agony, "You killed my son/daughter".

4) Essential Question

How does the history of a nation help to shape its modern culture and the way others may perceive one's nation, whether positive or negative?