US returns Dos Erres massacre suspect to Guatemala

Guatemalan soldiers of the Kaibiles Unit listen the speech of President Alvaro Colom (out of frame) during a ceremony at the Mariscal Zavala Brigade in Guatemala City in 2008.
Jose Cabezas

Guatemala’s renewed effort to bring justice to the families of 251 people massacred in Dos Erres almost 30 years ago is finding success — with some help from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Pedro Pimentel Rios, 54, was deported from Los Angeles to Guatemala on Tuesday to face charges for his alleged role in the 1982 massacre while he was a member of elite fighting force the Kaibiles.

Pimentel Rios had been a maintenance worker living in Santa Ana, Calif., far from the village where residents’ heads were smashed with sledgehammers and their bodies dumped into a well. Girls and women endured repeated rape over two days before being shot or strangled to death.

"For the families who lost loved ones at Dos Erres, justice has been a long time coming, but they can take consolation in the fact that those responsible for this tragedy are now being held accountable for their crimes," said ICE Director John Morton.

The government-run Kaibiles are believed responsible for many of the worst atrocities of Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996. After years of stalled prosecution, in 2009 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Guatemalan government to investigate and charge those responsible for the massacre.

Pimentel Rios is the fourth former Kaibil discovered to be living in the U.S. and targeted by ICE as part of its fledgling Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center. Just one month after the massacre, the former solider began working as an instructor at the notorious School of the Americas, then based in Panama.

Gilberto Jordan, 55, now sits in an American federal prison, serving a 10-year sentence for failing to disclose his involvement with the Kaibiles and Dos Erres on his U.S. citizenship application. Last year GlobalPost broke the story that Jordan was living in Delray Beach, Fla. and he later admitted his involvement to U.S. investigators.

Two other men, Jorge Vincio Sosa Orantes and Santos Lopez Alonzo, face similar charges in the U.S., among 17 mid- and low-level soldiers accused of war crimes. Lopez Alonzo adopted the orphaned son of one of the families killed in Dos Erres, forcing the boy to call him “father” and subjecting him to physical and psychological cruelty for 15 years.

GlobalPost correspondent Matt McAllester contributed to this story.