Ríos was appointed as the Deputy Chief of the 'Staff of Army', in 1968. Two years later, President of Guatemala, Carlos Manuel Arana Osorio designated Montt as 'Chief of Staff' and 'Brigadier General' of the Guatemalan Army.
In 1973, Efraín decided to contest in the Presidential elections to be held the following year, and gave up his office at the Washington embassy. However, he was easily defeated by right-wing candidate, Brigadier General, Kjell Eugenio Laugerud García.
He served at the Guatemalan embassy in Spain till 1977, as a military attaché. The next year he became a pastor of the Pentecostal 'Church of the Word' in California. In the meantime, General Fernando Romeo Lucas García became the President of Guatemala.
The election of García was suspected to be rigged and many poverty-stricken peasants suffered under his rule. To overcome the turbulent situations, peasants belonging to the Catholic-Mayan ethnic group of Guatemala came together and formed the ‘Peasant Unity Committee’. The organization fought for human rights and land reforms that would benefit Guatemalan farmers.
Some peasants began revolting against President García, and on March 23, 1982, he was deposed. Coup leaders Horacio Egberto Maldonado Schaad and Francisco Luis Gordillo Martínez formed a committee led by Ríos.
Initially, the new committee gave some hope to the peasants. However, the members of the junta soon dissolved the constitution and legislature, and started arresting and torturing insurgents.
On April 10, Efraín introduced the 'National Growth and Security Plan' which zeroed in on the areas of conflict in the state.
On June 9, the junta was dissolved and he declared himself the chief of the armed forces as well as the 'Minister of Defence'. Following this move, dissidents formed the ‘Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity’, and protested against the politician's rule.
To counter the revolts, Ríos started a military campaign called 'frijoles y fusiles', where he destroyed almost 600 Mayan villages, including the municipality of Plan de Sánchez. In this infamous massacre, more than 250 children and women belonging to the ‘Achi Mayan’ ethnic tribe were raped, tortured and killed by Montt's army. Ironically, during this time he delivered sermons over the radio, speaking about the need to substitute violence with love.
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Despite the support of US President Ronald Reagan, Efraín was deposed in 1983, as a result of a coup led by his Minister of Defense, General Óscar Humberto Mejía Victores.
In 1989, the ‘Guatemalan Republic Front’, a political party was formed by Ríos Montt. The next year, he attempted to contest in the elections, but was prevented from doing so, by a law restricting participants of military uprisings from becoming the President.
In 1994, he was elected once again as the President of the ‘Guatemalan Republic Front’.
In 1995, Efraín made a second attempt at contesting in the elections and was prohibited once again. The next year, the ‘Guatemalan Civil War’ ended with the signing of a peace treaty between the government and the guerrilla organization, ‘Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity’.
A report by Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera of the Roman Catholic Church was released in 1998, where the priest declared that 90% human rights were abused by the army, during the Civil War. Two days later, as a repercussion to his report titled 'Recovery of Historical Memory (Never Again)', Conedera was murdered.
In 1998 Ríos Montt was re-elected for a third term as head of the FRG. The next year, 'Nobel Peace Prize' winner Rigoberta Menchú, from Guatemala, pressed charges against the politician for genocide and state-sponsored terrorism.
The Guatemalan politician ran for the President's post once again in 2003, but his campaign was withheld by the Supreme Court. His supporters protested against the court's decision on July 24, with weapons, and this day came to be known as 'jueves Negro' ('black Thursday').
On this day, a TV journalist, Héctor Fernando Ramírez, popularly known as 'Reporter X', succumbed to a heart attack after being chased by the angry mob. Protestors resorted to extreme violence for two consecutive days till Montt ordered them to stop.
The political leader lost to Óscar Berger of the 'Grand National Alliance' party, and the latter was elected President. Since Ríos was already contesting the presidential elections, he was barred from being a member of the Congress.
Efraín was prohibited in March 2004, from leaving the country, according to a court order that decided put him on trial for the death of journalist Ramírez and the protests held the previous year.
In 2005, Spanish judge Santiago Pedraz decided to investigate further into the case presented by Nobel Prize winner Menchú. Pedraz was however unsuccessful in trying Montt for "crimes against humanity", because of fifteen defence appeals made by the latter's lawyers.
The politician won a seat in the Congress after the 2007 elections, but after five years when his term ended, he was arrested for genocide based on the case presented by Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz. Though released on bail, Ríos has been under home detention since then.
In March 2013, this retired politician was sentenced to eighty years of imprisonment, for planning and implementing genocide. In May, his lawyers appealed against the court sentence and the Constitutional Court ruled that he would be tried once again in 2015.