GUATEMALA CITY – Former military strongman Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, accused by a court in Spain of crimes against humanity, announced Jan. 17 that he will be seeking a seat in Guatemala’s Congress in the September elections.
Success in that endeavor would provide the 81-year-old retired general with legislative immunity from prosecution in Guatemala or Spain.
In a press conference he gave at Congress, Ríos Montt said he is running for lawmaker “to continue the job of solving the nation’s problems,” and denied his real motivation is fear of ending up in the defendant’s dock.
“That’s the analysts’ opinion but not mine.
I just know that there’s a judicial process and nothing else,” he limited himself to saying in response to a barrage of questions from reporters.
In fact, Ríos Montt will be assured of safety from prosecution for at least the duration of the campaign, as Guatemalan electoral law provides immunity for candidates, too.
A habeas corpus motion by his attorneys has also temporarily suspended the arrest warrant that judge Santiago Pedraz of Spain’s National Court issued in December.
Spain is among several nations that asserts jurisdiction over crimes against humanity regardless of where they took place.
That tribunal wants the ex-dictator and six other Guatemalan former top military officers extradited to face charges of mass murder, torture and state terrorism against thousands of Maya Indians during this Central American country’s 1960-1996 civil war. The criminal complaint was filed in Madrid in December 1999 by Guatemalan Indian leader and Nobel peace laureate Rigoberta Menchú.
Ríos Montt said he decided to seek a congressional seat rather than run for President on the ticket of the rightist party he founded and still leads, the FRG.
Ríos Montt previously served as congressional speaker during the 2000-2004 government of President Alfonso Portillo.
Ríos Montt’s 1982-1983 rule is blamed for some of the worst atrocities of a conflict that claimed more than 200,000 lives.