They met during a trade mission, and despite controversy over their engagement, U.S. Rep. Jerry Weller of Illinois and the outspoken daughter of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt tied the knot Saturday in a civil ceremony.
About 300 people — including Rios Montt — attended the wedding of the Republican congressman from central Illinois and Zury Rios Sosa, a 36-year-old Guatemalan senator. Security was tight as the two exchanged wedding vows at a mansion belonging to the former dictator.
Rios Sosa wore a creamed-colored, strapless dress, Weller a black suit. U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala John Hamilton also attended.
A large security team watched the home, which also was encircled by a high stone wall topped by electrified wire, in this colonial mountain town popular with tourists.
Weller’s opponents criticized the engagement because Rios Montt, a retired general who seized control of Guatemala for 18 months in 1982-83, is accused of leading one of the bloodiest campaigns in the nation’s 36-year civil war, which killed 200,000 people.
Rios Montt, twice elected president of the legislature after his dictatorship, is under house arrest in the capital, Guatemala City, 30 miles southeast of Antigua.
He faces charges of organizing a violent and chaotic protest that saw thousands of his supporters overrun the capital in July 2003, decrying a court order blocking him from running for president.
A journalist had a heart attack and died while covering the riots and dozens of people were injured. Rios Montt, who has denied organizing the protests, was eventually allowed to seek the presidency, but he was defeated soundly at the polls.
The former dictator attended his daughter’s wedding after obtaining permission to travel outside Guatemala City from a judge overseeing the case against him.
Francisco Paloma, Rios Montt’s personal notary public and lawyer, officiated, but the former dictator also led part of the religious proceedings.
The sound of his sermon carried outside the mansion, where he could be heard saying “the husband is the brains of his woman ... who should be loved like the church loves Christ.”
Rios Montt, who embraced evangelical Christianity after leaving the army, also said “the science of marriage is to become one, just like the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Rios Sosa, who has been married three times before, will move to the United States and live with her husband. But she says she will not give up her seat in the senate, preferring to fly back to Guatemala to fulfill her legislative responsibilities.
Rios Sosa, an active supporter of her father who directed his presidential campaign, also helped Weller campaign after the U.S. Federal Election Commission voted unanimously to let her participate.
Weller requested the ruling to clarify a law prohibiting foreign nationals from making a contribution of money “or other thing of value” to candidates.
'Everyone is really happy'
The couple met while Weller was on a Central American trade mission. They announced their engagement in July, while Weller was running for re-election.
The engagement prompted Weller’s Democratic opponent, political science professor Tari Renner, to call for him to step down from his post on the House International Relations Committee.
“Why in the world would you get involved in a family like that?” Renner asked in July.
Weller responded by saying Renner’s comments were “simply beyond the bounds of decency.”
“My engagement to Zury is not an issue in this election; nor is my love for Zury,” he said in a statement.
Weller arrived in Guatemala on Thursday for the wedding, but he has not commented to local reporters.
“Jerry and I are very excited and happy ... everyone is really happy,” Rios Sosa told local radio stations Friday.