Ex-Guatemalan president Rios Montt dies, leaves bitter legacy

Efrain Rios Montt smiles during his genocide trial at the Supreme Court of Justice in Guatemala City, in 2013. Net photo.

Former Guatemalan military dictator Efrain Rios Montt died at the age of 91 on Sunday, a bitterly divisive figure in the country’s long civil war who escaped a 2013 genocide conviction only to face renewed charges last year.

At the time of his death, which his lawyer Luis Rosales announced, Rios Montt was again on trial for genocide for his role during one of the bloodiest phases of the Cold War-era conflict that lasted from 1960 until 1996.

“He died facing justice,” said on Twitter Claudia Paz y Paz, a former Guatemalan attorney general who was instrumental in bringing charges against members of the military accused of committing atrocities during the civil war.

“Thank you to the survivors for their dignity and bravery. May it never happen again,” Paz y Paz added.

Ruler of Guatemala from 1982 to 1983, Rios Montt was in 2013 convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, to the relief of many victims’ families. Then, barely a week later, judges at the country’s top court threw out the sentence.

President Jimmy Morales, whose party has strong ties to the military, expressed his condolences to Rios Montt’s family, while other leaders on the right also paid their respects.

Former conservative President Alfonso Portillo, a party colleague of Rios Montt’s who was convicted of money laundering in 2014, said he had valued the retired general as a friend.

“I learnt a lot from him and his life is part of our history,” he said, noting the two had also their differences.

An evangelical Protestant, Rios Montt served in Congress for nearly two decades and stepped down in 2012, putting an end to the immunity he enjoyed by law as a public official.

A Guatemalan court in January 2012 charged him for conceiving a counterinsurgency plan that killed at least 1,771 members of the Ixil tribe and displaced thousands more.

His lawyer, Rosales, said on Sunday that Rios Montt maintained he was innocent of genocide until the end.

An estimated 200,000, mostly Maya civilians, were killed during the war, and a further 45,000 went missing.

Born on June 16, 1926 in Guatemala’s rural western highland department of Huehuetenango, Rios Montt took part in the 1954 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency-backed military coup that ousted democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz, who was seen by the United States as a communist sympathiser.



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