Document Friday: What Happened At Dos Erres?
This weekend, This American Life on National Public Radio will air an hour-long edition entitled “What Happened at Dos Erres”. The program will tell the harrowing, and still ongoing, story of the Dos Erres Massacre that occurred in Guatemala on 6 December 1982.
Before daybreak, 58 Kabiles —elite Guatemalan special force soldiers– disguised themselves as guerrillas and arrived at the hamlet called Dos Erres. According to witness testimony, and corroborated through declassified US Department of State cables, the Kabiles forced the inhabitants from their homes, segregated men into a school house and women and children into two churches. The Kabiles first killed hamlet’s children by bashing them with hammers or against trees. Then, they interrogated and subsequently killed almost every person at the hamlet. They raped the hamlet’s women and girls, and mutilated fetuses. Most of more-than-250 bodies were then dumped into a well which the special forces then covered over.
Soon after, the US embassy heard “second- and third-hand information on a possible GOG [Government of Guatemala] army massacre of 200 villagers of Los Dos R’s [Dos Erres].” The cable to the Secretary of State went on to report:
“Witnesses…say the village is now completely deserted. The claim to have found burnt cedulas (ID cards) in the Roman Catholic church. The houses are empty. They claim the army came in again after December 12 and took roofing and furniture to the army base at Las Cruces. No one, however, has claimed to have seen any bodies.”
Upon visiting Dos Erres, US diplomats spoke with Guatemalan civilian officials who acknowledged that the inhabitants of Dos Erres had disappeared, and called the situation “a mystery.” The cable recounted that:
“There was a definite atmosphere of fear in Las Cruces [the nearest village to Dos Erres]. The local army commander, a lieutenant, was nowhere to be found. It is somewhat difficult to believe that the disappearance (and possible liquidation) of hundreds of people so close to Las Cruces could remain a “mystery” for weeks. Based on information reported by source in reftel and on-site observations made on December 30, the embassy must conclude that the party most likely responsible for this incident is the Guatemalan army.”
Thirty years later, justice is slowly catching up with those responsible for Dos Erres. The well has been reopened, bodies have been exhumed and identified. This week, Judge Patricia Flores ruled that Rios Montt, the de facto leader of Guatemala during its Civil War, must stand trial for the Dos Erres Massacre because there is sufficient evidence that he had authorized the military operation.
Five other Kabiles have been convicted for their role in the Massacre and were sentenced to more than 6000 years in prison. Kabiles responsible for Dos Erres have been arrested in the United States and Canada.
For those in the Boston area on May 30, The National Security Archive’s Senior Analyst Kate Doyle will be speaking at Harvard’s JFK School of Government about “What Happened at Dos Erres.”
Be sure to tune into NPR’s This American Life this weekend or listen online at your convenience.