Guatemalan Dictator Montt Found Guilty of Genocide (Video)
On Friday, former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians in the 1980s.
This is the first time ever a former head of state has been found guilty of genocide in his own country. He is sentenced to 80 years in prison.
Montt’s defense attorneys insist that the decision is illegal and are preparing legal challenges to the ruling, while the prosecution says the decision is binding.
Rios Montt, now 86, took power after a coup in 1982, in the midst of a civil war. Prosecutors say Rios Montt fully supported the soldiers who used rape, torture and arson to try to rid Guatemala of leftist rebels during his rule.
An estimated 200,000 people, mostly indigenous Mayans, were killed and over 45,000 still missing, in Guatemala by the military during the armed conflict between 1960s and 1996.
Many were falsely accused by the state of belonging to anti-government leftist guerilla forces and labeled as enemy.
Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan provided support for Rios Montt’s government. In late 1982, Reagan said the dictator was getting a “bum rap” from rights groups for his military campaign against left-wing guerrillas during the Cold War.
He also once called Rios Montt “a man of great personal integrity”.
Declassified U.S. documents from the civil war years suggest that the country’s current President Otto Perez, a former army general during the civil war, was part of a group of generals that stood up to Rios Montt, and played a key role in an ensuing peace process. There are accusations of Perez being involved in the burning of villages during the civil war, but the President denies any involvement.
The courts in the country begun prosecutions for atrocities committed during the conflict after Perez took office in 2012.
The Central American nation remains a deeply divided society with very poor indigenous areas despite the peace accords that were signed in 1996 that ended the bloody civil war.