Efrain Rios Montt:
Dictator of Guatemala
by Molly Callahan
Efrain Rios Montt was born on June 16, 1926 in the Latin American country of Guatemala. He began his road to dictatorship when he enlisted in the army at age 17 in 1943. Montt went on to attend other schools pertaining to the military, one being Fort Bragg in North Carolina. At these schools, he became an expert on military tactics and war strategy.
His rise to power officially began in the June, 1982. After rebels, commonly referred to as guerillas, took control of the government after a long civil war, the military quickly overthrew them. Despite his vague and uncertain presence in this small insurgency, Montt became the new leader of Guatemala along with two others. Together, they formed a triumvirate. The sudden peace did not last. Montt quickly took the power from the other two members of the triumvirate and assumed control as the new President of Guatemala. This was the beginning of Montt's authoritarian reign.
Montt set out to do away with any potential threat to his power. He attempted to find and kill all those who had been guerillas, and anyone else he viewed as a threat. His main targets were guerillas, Mayans, and Catholic priests. After burning down villages through a scorched earth campaign, Montt made it legal to kill anyone residing in Guatemala. To further justify his actions, and to hide them from the public, he censored newspapers reporting on the genocide. He also used taxes to cripple the lower classes, forcing many to either live in extreme forms of poverty or flee to Mexico. Approximately 75,000 died and 200,000 fled the country.
As an authoritarian leader, Montt was paranoid of anyone taking away his power. He would do anything, resorting to huge massacres, to maintain his power. Montt was intelligent in the art of deceit; he hid behind laws and by-laws to justify what he was doing, proving he used the field of politics to strategically cover up his actions. He also projected fear and intimidated may into submission with the threat of burning down or massacring whole villages. He was a ruthless and cunning dictator who would use any medium to keep his presidency.
2) Audio/Visual Element
This video, posted on May 9, 2013, is a news report on the trial of Efrain Rios Montt. During the video, it repeatedly stated how families of the victims from the genocide, fueled by Montt, have been trying to have Montt tried for years. Despite their efforts, Montt's supporters, including some members of the government, have stalled the trial and have frequently tried to put an end to it altogether. Through threats and intimidation, the supporters have effectively delayed the trial from ending until 2013. Based on this information, one can assume that Montt has a powerful influence, despite his diminishing role in the Guatemalan government. During his life, Montt has been accused of targeting the Mayans for genocide, committing manslaughter, and taking advantage of his role as President of Guatemala. Despite the growing number of charges against him, he still maintains a strong following of supporters. One can assume that Montt uses his connections to powerful leaders and old supporters to delay his trial, much like a totalitarian leader would. He used his power and influence to attain what he wanted. This also shows Montt's intelligence in the field of politics. He is cunning enough to understand who to have as a supporter in order to counter the attempts to continue his trial. Of course, the power of his connections must be strong in order to counter the progress of the families of the victims and their testimonies. Montt's intelligence caused his trial to be delayed for years in Guatemala, but the families of the victims have finally prevailed against the once totalitarian dictator.
3) Creative Piece
Above is a probable propaganda poster for Efrain Rios Montt, which was created by me. This poster would be posted all over Guatemala during one of the multiple times Montt has ran for presidency. It shows how Montt tries again and again to gloss over his charges for genocide, among other charges, to convince the people he is a worthy candidate.
4) Essential Question
How does Efrain Rios Montt's influence over the population and the government continue to thrive even in today's Guatemala?