SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Rep. Jerry Weller (search) intends to marry the daughter of a former Guatemalan dictator, and his Democratic opponent is making the wedding plans an issue in November's general election.
Weller is engaged to Zury Rios Sosa (search), whose father, Efrain Rios Montt (search), seized power in a coup and ruled Guatemala for 18 months in 1982 and 1983. His tenure was among the bloodiest of a 1960-1996 civil war that killed 200,000 people.
Rios, a congresswoman in Guatemala, met Weller on a trade mission in Central America. She campaigned for her father last year in his bid for the presidency. Today, Rios Montt is under investigation in the death of a television journalist during a protest to support his unsuccessful campaign.
"Why in the world would you get involved in a family like that?" asked challenger Tari Renner, an Illinois Wesleyan University political scientist.
Weller reacted angrily to Renner's comments, calling them "simply beyond the bounds of decency."
"My engagement to Zury is not an issue in this election nor is my love for Zury," Weller said in a statement.
Weller, who has served in the House of Representatives since 1994, said Thursday he would not discuss Guatemalan politics.
"It is unfortunate my opponent would rather instigate an assault against a well-respected woman from another culture, rather than address the real issues affecting citizens of Illinois," he said.
If re-elected, Weller plans to commute between Illinois, Washington, and Guatemala to be with his future wife, Weller spokesman Telly Lovelace said.