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A Spanish court issued an arrest warrant on July 7 for former Guatemalan military ruler Efrain Rios Montt, charging him and seven other leaders with genocide, terrorism, and state-sponsored torture.

Retired army general Rios Montt, 80, a longtime lay pastor in Guatemala's Pentecostal Verbo Church, came to power after a 1982 military coup during the nation's civil war that pitted four Marxist guerrilla groups against the government. Seventeen months later, a bloodless coup toppled Rios Montt from power.

He ruled during the Central American Cold War struggles between governments and leftist insurgencies in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, which took place in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Rios Montt once counted Luis Palau, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson among his friends and supporters. (Christianity Today ran multiple articles promoting his presidency.) "It's great to have a Christian president as a model," Palau told CT in 1983. "The hand of God appears to be on him."

A U.S. State Department report, however, describes Rios Montt's 17-month rule as "probably the most violent period of the 36-year internal conflict, resulting in about 200,000 deaths of mostly unarmed indigenous civilians." A 1996 peace treaty ended Guatemala's civil war. In 1999, a U.N.-sponsored truth commission, called the Historical Clarification Commission, found government forces responsible for 93 percent of war deaths. President Bill Clinton apologized for support the United States granted to Guatemala's military rulers.

Many evangelical Guatemala watchers, however, say Rios Montt did not order or even know about the massacres. Others maintain that during the Cold War, drastic measures were justified to keep Communists from overthrowing Guatemala's government. ...

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September 2006

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