Former Guatemalan president Efrain Rios Montt, who ruled the country with an iron fist in the 1980s and was accused of genocide at the peak of its long civil war, on Sunday died at the age of 91.
One of his lawyers, Luis Rosales, told reporters that Rios Montt “died in his home, with the love of his family and a clear conscience.”
However, protesting relatives of people who died under his rule splashed red paint on the sidewalk outside a former government palace in Guatemala City and on a national flag in a symbol of the blood they said he had shed, complaining that he was never punished.
Rios Montt was accused of ordering the murders of 1,771 indigenous Ixil-Maya people during his short reign from 1982 to 1983, which came at the height of a brutal 36-year civil war.
According to the UN, about 200,000 people died or were made to disappear during Guatemalan Civil War, which ended in 1996.
Rios Montt was accused of orchestrating an extermination policy against the indigenous population, which was perceived to be collaborating with leftwing guerrillas waging war against government forces.
Short in stature and vigorous until recent years, Rios Montt had a humble beginning, with little to suggest a rise to national power. He was born in Guatemala’s remote Huehuetenango Province, near the border with Mexico.
He enlisted in the army as a teenager and rose through the ranks, receiving training courses at the US-run School of the Americas, where Latin American officers learned harsh tactics used in crack downs on dissidents.
Politically, Rios Montt came to the forefront in 1974 when he was put forward as a coalition presidential candidate.
Historians have said he won an overwhelming victory, but electoral fraud prevented him from taking office.
On March 23, 1982, he took power in a bloodless coup, deposing then-Guatemalan president Lucas Garcia.
During his 18-month rule, ruthless even by the standards of Latin American dictators, Rios Montt engaged in a “scorched earth” policy against dissidents, wiping out entire rural towns where leftists were suspected of living or having support.
He appointed “faceless judges” who mounted summary trials and ordered numerous alleged criminals — often leftist rebel sympathizers or militants — executed.
Rios Montt also used his office to preach to his people: Every Sunday night, dressed in a combat uniform, the dictator would take to the airwaves and talk about God, morality and politics.
He claimed in one such sermon that a “good Christian” lived their life “with a Bible and a machine gun.”
As conflicts raged in nearby Nicaragua and El Salvador, then-US president Ronald Reagan in 1982 praised Rios Montt as “a man of great personal integrity and commitment.”
LIFE GOES ON: After a strict lockdown that left millions on the brink of starvation, Indians embrace work to avoid starvation and get ready for several major festivals India is on course to top the world in COVID-19 cases, but from Maharashtra’s whirring factories to Kolkata’s thronging markets, people are back at work — and eager to forget the pandemic for festival season. After a strict lockdown in March that left millions on the brink of starvation, the government and people of the world’s second-most populous country decided life must go on. Sonali Dange, for instance, has two young daughters and an elderly mother-in-law to look after. She was hospitalized this year in excruciating pain after catching the novel coronavirus. However, after the lockdown exhausted the family’s savings, the 29-year-old had
A COVID-19 outbreak among hundreds of Russian and Ukrainian fishers flown to New Zealand to bolster its struggling deep-sea fishing industry has prompted that country’s largest daily increase in infections in months, authorities said yesterday. More than 230 fishers were flown in from Moscow last week, with 18 of the crew members then testing positive for COVID-19 while in quarantine, New Zealand Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said. The Pacific nation has almost eliminated local transmission of the virus, but regularly records small numbers of new cases in returned travelers. The fishing cluster pushed the daily tally of new infections to 25,
From monitoring vital signs to filtering filthy air and even translating speech into other languages, the COVID-19-fueled boom in mask-wearing has spawned an unusual range of high-tech face coverings. As masks become the norm worldwide, tech companies and researchers are rolling out weird and wonderful models to guard against infection and cash in on a growing trend. One of the wackiest comes from Japan, where start-up Donut Robotics has created a face covering that helps users adhere to social distancing and also acts as a translator. The “C-Face” mask works by transmitting a wearer’s speech to a smartphone via an app, and allows
JAPAN Deer-edible bags invented The deer that roam Nara no longer face discomfort — or far worse — after local firms developed a safe alternative to the plastic packaging discarded by tourists that often ended up in the animals’ stomachs. Last year, several of the 1,300 deer that wander around the ancient capital’s central park were found dead after swallowing plastic bags and food wrappers. Firms collaborated to develop bags that pass safely through the animals’ complex digestive system. The bags are made with recycled pulp from milk cartons and rice bran, one of the main ingredients of the shika senbei savory