Efrain Rios Montt

Ruler of Guatemala from 1982-1983

Essential Question:

Why is the rise and fall Efrain Rios Montt a good representation of history repeating itself?


Born on June 16, 1926, Efrain Rios Montt joined the army in 1943. As he quickly rose through the ranks Montt held numerous posts including chief of army general staff during the presidency of Caros Arana, and a military attaché to Washington, D.C. He also received professional education at the U.S. Fort Gulick, located in the Panama Canal Zone, Fort Bragg in North Carolina in the U.S., and the Army School of War in Italy. Montt first appeared on the political stage in 1974 when he ran for president as a candidate of the Christian Democratic Party against the National Liberation Movement Party, who were in power at the time. Although the first count proclaimed him the victor, a recount showed more votes for his opponent from the NLMP, however the majority of, if not al, observers believe that the current leadership party changed the results to remain in power. Montt left his political and military life in 1976, joining the evangelist Protestant church, the Church of the World two years later in 1978. It was not until 1982, following years of insurgence and in the midst of a civil war, that a military coup d'état gave power to a new military faction that chose Montt as Guatemala's new ruler. During Montt's rule, rural violence soared, Amnesty International estimates that more than 2,000 civilians were killed between the coup that placed Montt in power and July 1, 1982. It was on July 1, 1982 that Montt declared a state of siege in reaction to the presence of an armed rebellion. During the siege Montt declared it legal for the government to kill it's citizens and began to harshly censor the press. Corrupt tribunals were also established, intended to put people to trial without the assistance of attorneys or the right to read their own charges. Among those victimized during this time period, Catholic priests were prominent. As if a cycle, Montt was removed from power by a coup very similar to the one that originally put him in power, though the occurrence of a coup was so little of a surprise that it's been recorded that parents began keeping their children home from school to protect them from the violence that could result from a coup. Following his removal from power, Montt remained in politics, serving in Guatemala's legislature, as well as attempting to run for president, though he was denied the presidency due to laws preventing any leader placed in power through means of a coup from serving any more than one term. It was only recently that the legal immunity granted to Montt as a public official expired, and he is now on trial for crimes against humanity, as well as genocide.

In court:

Ex-Dictator Rios Montt Stands Trial For Guatemala War Crimes
Though Montt and his attorney's do not deny the occurrence of genocide during Montt's rule, an argument could be made that their denial of Montt's involvement in the genocide qualifies as the eighth and final stage of the genocide process outlined by Genocide Watch, Denial.

Letter to Efrain:

Dear Efrain,

It is with great sorrow that I must say you actions have made it hard to consider you human. Many lives were lost under your leadership and with very little evidence of any effort on your part to prevent the loss of life I must say that, as a leader, there are few socially acceptable words to describe your performance. I also regret that I have so little to write, and that what I have written has been so negative, but such is the consequence of your actions, and I can only say that I hope your trial is just and right, that you receive only what you are due, and may God have mercy on your soul.