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GUATEMALA
Dos Erres unearthed again
Louisa Reynolds
2/3/2011
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United States and Canada arrests former soldiers involved in one of Guatemala’s worst wartime massacres.

Twenty nine years after one of the most brutal massacres perpetrated by the army against the indigenous Mayan population, the name Dos Erres (“The Two R´s”), a tiny village in the northern department of Petén, has come back to haunt 52-year old Jorge Vinicio Orantes Sosa, one of the 17 Kaibil commanders wanted by the Guatemalan justice system for leading the contingent that committed the killings.

On Jan. 20 this year, Orantes Sosa, with his hands and feet shackled and escorted by three security officers, faced his initial extradition hearing, in Calgary, Canada, two days after he was arrested in the small western town of Lethbridge, in the province of Alberta.

Orantes Sosa has both Canadian and American citizenship and is charged in the United States with lying to obtain citizenship papers after he answered “no” to two questions asking whether he was accused of human rights violations in his country of origin and whether he had ever served in the armed forces.

“I think there should be a thorough investigation into how he was able to obtain Canadian citizenship”, says Carmen Aguilera, who served as Guatemalan consul in Calgary for two years.

Orantes Sosa was apparently in Lethbridge for less than a day to visit relatives living in the south side of the city and had travelled to Canada after fleeing his home in Riverside, California, in May last year, when he was arrested by the Unit Against Human Rights Violators and War Criminals of Canada´s Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

First, he escaped to Mexico and in January this year he boarded a commercial flight to Vancouver, Canada, and from there made his way to Lethbridge, where he was arrested by the Canadian police.

Two other arrests
Two other Kaibil commanders — the Kaibiles are a special operations force that specializes in jungle warfare tactics and counter-insurgency operations — were arrested on the same date as Orantes Sosa: Gilberto Jordán, who was found guilty of lying in his citizenship application by a Florida court and received a ten-year prison sentence, and Pedro Pimentel Ríos, who is currently awaiting trial in California.

Jordán had lived in California since 1990, where he worked as a cook and Orantes Sosa was a martial arts instructor.
After the Kaibil officers were arrested by the US authorities, the Guatemalan asked the United States to authorize the extradition of Jordán and Pimentel Ríos to Guatemala so that they can be tried for crimes against humanity.

In 2000, a criminal court in the municipality of San Benito, Petén, ordered the arrest of 17 of the 58 Kaibil soldiers involved in the massacre, but ultra-right-wing war veterans´ associations lodged 36 appeals in a desperate attempt to stall the process.

However, in February last year, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Guatemalan government to re-open the case and the arrest warrants were re-issued.

Aura Elena Farfán, president of the Association of Family Members of Detained and Disappeared Persons in Guatemala, or FAMDEGUA, says that Orantes Sosa´s arrest is an important step in terms of securing justice for the victims of Dos Erres, as back in 1982 he was the sub-lieutenant in command of the contingent that perpetrated the massacre.

However, his extradition process to the United States, and eventually to Guatemala, might be complicated as the Canadian Center for International Justice, fearing that he might attempt to escape again or that the Guatemalan army might try to stall the legal process against him, has demanded that he should be tried in Canada, a country whose laws allow the prosecution of foreign war criminals.

Unspeakable cruelty
According to the report “Guatemala: Memory of Silence”, published in 1999 by Guatemala´s truth and reconciliation commission, in October 1982, guerrillas ambushed an army convoy near Palestina, in the vicinity of the tiny village of Dos Erres (which was named after two brothers called Ruano who received the original land grant for the area), killing 21 soldiers and taking 19 rifles.

The Guatemalan army quickly retaliated, flying a contingent of 58 Kaibil soldiers into the area to wipe out the inhabitants of Dos Erres, who were considered to be guerrilla sympathizers.

The soldiers arrived at the hamlet on Dec. 6, disguised as guerrillas, and forced inhabitants out of their homes, herding men into the school building and women into the village´s two churches.

The Kaibiles separated children from their parents. They bashed the smallest infants´ heads against walls and trees and the older ones were killed with blows to the head. Their bodies were dumped in a well.

Then villagers were interrogated one by one, then shot or bashed with a hammer and then dumped in a well. Women and girls were raped and pregnant women had their fetuses ripped out with machetes.

A total of 252 civilians were massacred in Dos Erres even though no communist propaganda was ever found in the village.

The brutal slaughter occurred at the beginning of a decade when the guerrillas launched their biggest offensive ever, to which the army responded with the so-called “Operación Ceniza” (“Operation Ashes”), in which mass killings were committed and entire villages were razed to the ground.

What had been a selective campaign against guerrilla sympathizers turned into a mass slaughter designed to eliminate support or potential support for the rebels, a strategy that dictator Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83) called “draining the sea that the fish swim in”.
—Latinamerica Press. 


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