A U.S. court on Monday convicted a former Guatemalan soldier who helped carry out one of the bloodiest incidents in that country’s civil war.
Jorge Sosa will have his U.S. citizenship removed and will spend ten years in prison as punishment for lying on his citizenship papers in 2007. At the time, he claimed to have not been involved in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre, when at least 160 villagers where killed by a Guatemalan military patrol.
Sosa was part of the “Kabiles” military unit behind the Dos Erres massacre yet he left Guatemala in 1985 and had been living in impunity in California as a martial arts instructor. He moved north to Calgary until Canadian officials arrested him in January 2011 and subsequently deported him to the U.S. where he stood trial for immigration fraud.
“The (U.S.) government is seeking a backdoor way to enforce Guatemalan law,” claimed Sosa’s defense lawyer while Sosa expressed his innocence before being sentenced. Yet two of Sosa’s former comrades testified at the trial that he was not only present at Dos Erres but also fired his weapon at some of the dying villagers. Furthermore, one of the few survivors of the massacre took the stand to explain how he viewed soldiers taking his mother away to be killed despite her anguished pleas for mercy.
In recent years, Guatemalan authorities have sought to prosecute those accused of involvement in the Dos Erres massacre such as Pedro Pimentel Rios, a former Kabiles commander who was sentenced to over 6000 years in prison. Thus, it remains to be seen if he will serve his sentence in the U.S. or will be extradited to Guatemala and face war crimes charges.
“In addition to immigration violations, Sosa Orantes has a case to answer for war crimes. The US authorities must extradite him to Guatemala or prosecute him in the USA for crimes against international law,” said Sebastian Elgueta, Guatemala researcher for advocacy group Amnesty International.
The Dos Erres massacre took place in the middle of Guatemala’s thirty-six year civil war that ended in 1996 and cost the lives of some 200,000 people. Subsequently, a U.N.-backed truth commission report concluded that the army and paramilitary groups were responsible for more than 90% of the scores of massacres carried out during the war.
The head of Guatemala’s government at the time of the Dos Erres massacre, Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, was convicted of genocide in March 2013 and sentenced to eighty years behind bars. Despite the harrowing testimony from dozens of indigenous survivors of the conflict, a constitutional court annulled his punishment last May. The 87-year-old former strongman is expected to be retried on charges of crimes against humanity in 2015.
The push to clean up rampant corruption in Guatemala and end the impunity of accused human rights abusers such as Rios Montt has come at a price to Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz. Guatemala's Supreme Court ruled last week to cut her four-year term short in a decision that was criticized by the U.S. State Department and local human rights activists.
The early removal of the crusading Paz y Paz raised eyebrows since it may have been a biased political action:
Guatemala's Supreme Court ruled last week in favor of lawyer and businessman Ricardo Sagastume, who argued that Paz's four-year term technically began in May 2010, when the official she replaced was appointed, and not in December 2010, when she took the post…
Sagastume is a former director of Guatemala's Industry Chamber and was a member of the National Convergence Front Party, which was founded by active and former military officials. His father was the Supreme Court's president during Rios Montt's government.
Paz wouldn't comment on whether she thought political reasons might be behind her ouster.Video Source– YouTube users Guillermo Pagaza and Prensa Libre
Online Sources – Christian Science Monitor; BBC News; The Latin Americanist; USA TODAY; Amnesty International; U.S. Institute of Peace