Jump directly to the Content


Guatemala's Evangelical Dictator Found Guilty of Genocide

(Updated) Guatemala's high court has overturned the genocide conviction against Efraín Ríos Montt, whom American evangelicals once championed.

Update (May 21): USA Today reports that Efrain Rios Montt's conviction on charges of genocide has been overturned, throwing the trial into "disarray."

According to Reuters, "In a ruling on Monday, the country's Constitutional Court ordered that all the proceedings be voided going back to April 19, when one of the presiding judges suspended the trial because of a dispute with another judge over who should hear it."


Thirty years after Guatemalan army general-turned-dictator Efrain Rios Montt, a longtime lay pastor in Guatemala's Pentecostal Verbo Church and once popular among American evangelicals, was removed from power, a three-judge panel has declared him guilty of genocide against a Mayan ethnic group.

Judges sentenced Montt to 80 years in prison–50 years for charges of genocide, and 30 years for crimes against humanity–for ordering the deaths of 1,700 Ixil ethnic Mayans. According to the Los Angeles Times, "The landmark ruling by a panel of three Guatemalan judges came after a dramatic trial that featured testimony from dozens of ethnic Ixil Maya, who described atrocities committed by the army and security forces who sought to clean the countryside of Marxist guerrillas and their sympathizers during the 1982-83 period that Rios Montt, an army general and coup leader, served as the country's de facto leader."

Judge Yasmín Barrios said the evidence left judges "'completely convinced of the intent to destroy the Ixil ethnic group,'" the New York Times reports.

Montt had denied any involvement in the massacres, and it is likely that he will appeal the ruling.

Montt enjoyed much support from evangelical leaders in the 1980s, while he was in power. "Montt once counted Luis Palau, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson among his friends and supporters," noted CT in a 2006 report on how evangelical Guatemala watchers were split on Montt's legacy. Many said that "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."

Support Our Work

Subscribe to CT for less than $4.25/month


Read These Next