Arenavirus pathogens cause a wide spectrum of diseases in humans ranging from central nervous system disease to lethal hemorrhagic fevers with few treatment options. The reason why some arenaviruses can cause severe human diseases while others cannot is unknown. We find that the Z proteins of all known pathogenic arenaviruses, lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) and Lassa, Junin, Machupo, Sabia, Guanarito, Chapare, Dandenong, and Lujo viruses, can inhibit retinoic acid-inducible gene 1 (RIG-i) and Melanoma Differentiation-Associated protein 5 (MDA5), in sharp contrast to those of 14 other nonpathogenic arenaviruses. Inhibition of the RIG-i-like receptors (RLRs) by pathogenic Z proteins is mediated by the protein-protein interactions of Z and RLRs, which lead to the disruption of the interactions between RLRs and mitochondrial antiviral signaling (MAVS). The Z-RLR interactive interfaces are located within the N-terminal domain (NTD) of the Z protein and the N-terminal CARD domains of RLRs. Swapping of the LCMV Z NTD into the nonpathogenic Pichinde virus (PICV) genome does not affect virus growth in Vero cells but significantly inhibits the type I interferon (IFN) responses and increases viral replication in human primary macrophages. In summary, our results show for the first time an innate immune-system-suppressive mechanism shared by the diverse pathogenic arenaviruses and thus shed important light on the pathogenic mechanism of human arenavirus pathogens.