Efrain Rios Montt, the former dictator of Guatemala in Central America whose brief regime in the early 1980s witnessed one of the bloodiest periods in the country's long civil war, died on Sunday, April 1, at the age of 91. The former dictator's lawyer informed this, adding that he died of heart attack. He is survived by his wife, two children and several grandchildren.
Rios Montt was convicted of genocide for massacring nearly 1,800 indigenous Ixil Mayans by his security forces during his 17-month rule between March 1982 and August 1983. But Rios Montt succeeded in evading the verdict and a new trial was ordered to the utter dismay of those who wanted to see him punished for the crime.
The genocide trials resumed after more than a year but his lawyers defended Rios Montt saying he was too forgetful then to participate in the process.
Rios Montt was an ex-military man who instilled fear. He later emerged as one of the most influential figures in Guatelaman politics for over three decades.
Born in 1926 in a Roman Catholic family, Rios Montt went up the military ranks after joining it in 1946 and ran for the president's post for the first time in 1974 but lost it.
Eight years later, Rios Montt seized power in a military coup and suspended the country's constitution, dissolved the congress and started a brutal counterinsurgency rule that killed thousands. A truth commission of the UN later said that the worst atrocities of the three-and-half-decade old Guatelamalan civil war took place during Rios Montt's rule.
The United States and Israel were great supporters of the Rios Montt regime with former US president Ronald Reagan even describing him as "a man of great personal integrity and commitment".
Rios Montt nevertheless remained popular for many of his social welfare initiatives and his 'iron fist' policy which had brought relative peace in some regions. Though he was barred from seeking presidency in 1985, he remained in politics and also founded a new conservative party in 1990. In 2003, Rios Montt made another attempt to become the president after the constitutional court allowed him to but he finished a distant loser.