Guatemala’s former military leader Efrain Rios Montt was convicted Friday of Genocide, and Crimes Against Humanity. He has been sentenced to 80 years in prison.
The 86 year old Montt claimed; “I am innocent,” he said. “I never had the intent to destroy any national race, religion, or ethnic group.”
Efrain Rios Montt ruled as Guatemala’s dictator, served as president of Congress, preached as an evangelical pastor and now, at 86, has become the first Latin American strongman to stand trial and be convicted on genocide charges in his own country.
Montt was a young army officer when President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was deposed in a CIA-backed military coup in 1954.
He rose in rank and became a brigadier general in 1970 during the military regime of President General Carlos Manuel Arana Osorio.
He assumed power in 1982 through a coup, when Marxist rebels battled the military regime.
In what became one of Latin Americas bloodiest conflicts, more than 200,000 of the indigenous Mayan population were killed. A truce was reached in 1996.
During this time was when most of the hundreds of massacres against Maya Indians were committed by the army, and were carried out as part of the U.S.-backed military’s scorched-earth offensive against a leftist uprising based in the Mayan heartland.
Prosecutors said the purported plan was to eliminate an indigenous Mayan ethnic group known as the Ixil in the towns of San Juan Cotzal, San Gaspar Chajul and Santa Maria Nebaj.
The trial began on March 19. Judge Barrios announced the verdict declaring Rios Montt guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, incommutable.
He was known for his televised moralist and religious messages the dictator shared with the nation every Sunday night.
Montt was deposed by a coup in August 1983. Both the military and middle class were upset by policies including excessive taxation. Roman Catholics were put out by his ignoring a request for clemency from Pope John Paul II on behalf of several prisoners sentenced to death.
A born-again evangelical Christian, Rios Montt also refused to bow before the pope during his visit to the predominantly Catholic country in 1983.
Montt’s political activity did not end after he was deposed. He ran for president in 2003, ignoring the restriction that anyone who had overthrown the country’s government could not serve in the presidency.
During the campaign, he was accused of orchestrating a violent protest by his supporters against the constitutional ruling.
General Rios Montt was cleared of manslaughter charges in 2006, with prosecutors citing a lack of evidence.
He made another attempt in 2006, when 22 people were killed who were connected with various political parties.
The general returned to public office in 2007 as a member of Congress, which secured him immunity from prosecution over the war crimes allegations.
His immunity ended when his term expired in 2012, and he was immediately charged with the crimes for which he was convicted on Friday.
Montt did not testify, but gave a one hour discourse in which he apologized for being an old man, and lacked a certain coherency, but that he never intended the extermination of a people and their culture.
He argued that his “mission as head of state was to reclaim order, because Guatemala was in ruins”, rather than overseeing the civil war at a local level.
Columnist-The Guardian Express