MARCH 23, 1982


Seizing power through a coup, General Efrain Ríos Montt led a counterinsurgency program against Guatemala’s Maya Indians.  The Army began a scorched-earth campaign to destroy Maya villages and culture in the Ixil region.  Soldiers massacred communities, raped and tortured their victims, looted and destroyed homes, hunted down fleeing refugees with helicopters, and destroyed sacred Mayan sites.  Those captured were corralled into militarized camps where they were forced to stay, sometimes for years.  The Reagan Administration championed the Guatemalan leader and sought to lift the sanctions imposed by Congress barring US military assistance to Guatemala because of the atrocities committed by the Army.  On May 10, 2013, a panel of three Guatemalan judges found Ríos Montt guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity.  Never before had a former head of state been convicted by his own country’s justice system for genocide.  Ríos Montt, then-86, received an 80-year prison term.  

Sources:  Marlise Simons, “Massacres Spread Terror in the Land of the Maya,” The New York Times, 9/15/1982.  Retrieved, 1/18/2020,
 “The Guatemala Genocide Ruling—Five Years Later,” National Security Archive, 5/10/2018.  Retrieved 1/18/2020,
Photo:  U.S. Agency for International Development, 2005.  Public Domain.

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