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Voting for a Killer: Efraín Ríos Montt's Return to Politics in Democratic Guatemala

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From 1982 to 1983, General Efraín Ríos Montt presided over an especially bloody period of the Guatemalan civil war. Under Ríos Montt's watch, the state killed approximately 75,000 of its own citizens. Yet less than a decade later, the former dictator emerged as one of the most popular politicians in newly democratic Guatemala. How did a gross human rights violator stage such an improbable comeback? Using process tracing, I argue that Ríos Montt's trajectory is best explained by his embrace of populism as his core political strategy. This analysis deepens our knowledge of an important case, while shedding light on broader questions about how and when actors with profoundly undemocratic values can hijack democracy for their own ends.

Keywords: DEMOCRATIZATION; GUATEMALA; POPULISM; POST-CONFL ICT POLITICS; PROCESS TRACING

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2022

This article was made available online on March 9, 2021 as a Fast Track article with title: "Voting for a Killer: Efraín Ríos Montt’s Return to Politics in Democratic Guatemala".

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  • Comparative Politics is an international journal that publishes scholarly articles devoted to the comparative analysis of political institutions and behavior. It was founded in 1968 to further the development of comparative political theory and the application of comparative theoretical analysis to the empirical investigation of political issues. Comparative Politics communicates new ideas and research findings to social scientists, scholars, and students, and is valued by experts in research organizations, foundations, and consulates throughout the world.
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