Massacre’s long trail leads to 10-Year Sentence

Thirty two years after 250 Guatemalan men, women and children were massacred, and with the efforts of authorities in at least three countries, Guatemala, the United States and Canada,  an American court sentence an former Guatemalan Army commander  Monday to 10 years in prison — for immigration crimes.

Read the ProPublica report, Commander in Guatemala Massacre Sentenced to 10 Years, in F&O Dispatches,  and find ProPublica’s feature on an accidental victim of the massacre, Oscar Alfredo Ramírez Castañeda, here: Finding Oscar: Massacre, Memory and Justice in Guatemala.

Former commander Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes, who has held Guatemalan, American and Canadian citizenship, was detained in Calgary, Canada, in 2011 after reportedly fleeing from U.S. authorities.

In ruling that Sosa could be extradited to the U.S. — specifically for immigration fraud — Neil Wittman of the provincial Court of Queen’s Bench in Alberta said at the time:

“The evidence of the massacre at Dos Erres clearly establishes that Sosa was present and involved; that he actively participated in the killings with a sledgehammer, with a firearm and a grenade. The evidence also clearly establishes that he was one of the commanding officers that took the decision to slaughter 171 men, women and children. It is difficult for this Court to comprehend the murderous acts of depraved cruelty on the scale disclosed by the evidence. This conduct is criminal in any civilization.”

Wittmann’s written statements of facts in the case include graphic details of what happened in Dos Erres in 1982:

“Sosa had been a member of the Guatemalan Army, and specifically, served as a sub-lieutenant of an elite unit known as the “Kaibiles.” The Kaibiles were trained at a facility locatedin La Pólvora, Guatemala, known as “the Kaibil School.” In early December 1982, a special patrol of approximately 20 Kaibiles from the Kaibil School, including Sosa, was deployed to the village of La Dos Erres, Guatemala to recover approximately 20 or 21 rifles that had been stolen from a Guatemala n Army convoy by guerrillas. The special patrol had been led to believe that rifles would be located in Dos Erres. In or around December 7, 1982, this special patrol entered Dos Erres, and massacred the men, women and children there by, among other means, hitting them in the head with a sledge hammer and throwing them into the village well. Members of the special forces unit also forcibly raped girls and young women at Dos Erres before killing them.”

Further reading:

Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Neil Wittmann’s ruling (pdf)
2011 press release from Lawyers Without Borders calling on Canada to prosecute Sosa under Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.