Guatemalan Army Officer Convicted in U.S. Courtroom for Lying about Dos Erres Massacre
A California jury found former Guatemalan lieutenant Jorge Sosa Orantes guilty on two counts of naturalization fraud today, concluding that he deliberately hid his role in the gruesome 1982 Dos Erres massacre when applying for U.S. citizenship years later.
The verdict followed a week of harrowing testimony from two former soldiers and a survivor of the massacre before the federal jury in Riverside, California. According to the Associated Press, the 55-year-old Sosa Orantes will be sentenced on December 9.
The witnesses described how Sosa Orantes led a unit of Kaibil soldiers in killing dozens of men, women, and children in the tiny settlement of Dos Erres in northern Guatemala over several days in December 1982. The crimes went uninvestigated by the Guatemalan state until a team of Argentine forensic anthropologists unearthed a well in the middle of the town in 1994-95 and found the remains of more than 160 people. Two members of the Kaibil unit came forward and gave details of the massacre to Aura Elena Farfán, director of Families of the Disappeared and Detained (FAMDEGUA) in Guatemala.
Even then the case languished in the justice system, until U.S. Justice Department prosecutors from a special human rights unit won a conviction against Gilberto Jordán, another member of the Kaibil unit who took part in the massacre, on similar charges in a Florida courtroom in 2010. Since then, five members of the Guatemalan army have been tried and convicted for the Dos Erres killings in Guatemalan tribunals.
Jordán, who is serving out his ten-year sentence in a U.S. federal prison, was a key witness in the Sosa Orantes hearing. His emotional testimony is described in ProPublica’s account of the trial.
The National Security Archive obtained declassified U.S. documents regarding the Dos Erres massacre through Freedom of Information requests sent on behalf of our Guatemala Documentation Project in 1995. The documents reveal shortly after the Kaibil operation, U.S. officials investigated the massacre and concluded that the Army was the only force capable of such an organized atrocity. Read some of the documents released here.