The military dictatorship led by Montt slaughtered thousands upon thousands of villagers in an effort to exterminate Guatemala’s indigenous ethnic Mayan population, which it regarded as sympathetic to leftist rebels. No word on whether the CIA and Ronald Reagan will be tried posthumously as accessories. Reuters reports:
Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt was found guilty on Friday of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 80 years in prison. It was the first time a former head of state had been found guilty of genocide in his or her own country.
Montt, now 86, took power after a coup in 1982 and implemented a scorched-earth policy in which troops massacred thousands of indigenous villagers thought to be helping leftist rebels.
Prosecutors say Montt turned a blind eye as soldiers used rape, torture and arson to try to rid Guatemala of leftist rebels during his 1982-1983 rule, the most violent period of a 1960-1996 civil war in which as many as 250,000 people died. He was tried over the killings of at least 1,771 members of the Maya Ixil indigenous group, just a fraction of the number who died during his rule.
“I feel happy. May no one else ever have to go through what I did. My community has been sad ever since this happened,” said Elena de Paz, an ethnic Maya Ixil who was two years old in 1983 when soldiers stormed her village, killed her parents and burned her home.
Guatemala’s civil war ended with peace accords signed in 1996 but the Central American nation remains a deeply divided society with very poor indigenous areas. The right-wing party that Montt founded changed its name this year to distance itself from its past.
Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan provided support for Rios Montt’s government and said in late 1982 that 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”.