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Graduation ceremony at the school for the Guatemalan Army's elite Kaibil, counterinsurgency unit formed in the mid-1970s. [Photo © Jean-Marie Simon]

Ex-Kaibil Officer Connected to Dos Erres Massacre Arrested in Alberta, Canada

Declassified documents show that U.S. officials knew the Guatemalan Army was responsible for the 1982 mass murder

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 316

Updated - January 20, 2011
Originally Posted - May 7, 2010

By Kate Doyle, Jesse Franzblau, and Emily Willard

For more information contact:
Kate Doyle - kadoyle@gwu.edu
Jesse Franzblau -jfranzbl@umich.edu
Emily Willard - ewillard@gwu.edu

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Kaibil unit on Army Day, Campo de Marte field, Guatemala City. [Photo © Jean-Marie Simon]

Washington, D.C. - January 20, 2011 - Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes was arrested in Alberta, Canada on January 18, 2011 on charges of naturalization fraud in the United States. Sosa Orantes, 52, is a former commanding officer of the Guatemalan Special Forces, or Kaibil unit, which brutally murdered more than 250 men, women and children during the 1982 massacre in Dos Erres, Guatemala. Sosa Orantes, a resident of Riverside County, California where he was a well known martial arts instructor, was arrested near the home of a relative in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. The charges for which he was arrested stem from an indictment by the United States District Court, Central District of California on charges of making false statements under oath on his citizenship application. Sosa Orantes will come before the Canadian court in Calgary to face possible extradition to the United States. 

In an interview with the Calgary Sun, U.S. Justice Department prosecutor David Gates said that the extradition request was not a result of the allegations against Sosa Orantes for his involvement in the massacre; his extradition is being requested for alleged naturalization fraud. However, considering the similar case against Gilberto Jordan, it is possible that the precedence set with the ruling on that case may affect the outcome of Sosa Orantes’s case.

On September 16, 2010 in a historic ruling, former Guatemalan special forces soldier Gilberto Jordán, who confessed to having participated in the 1982 massacre of hundreds of men, women and children in Dos Erres, Guatemala, was sentenced today by a judge in a south Florida courtroom to serve ten years in federal prison for lying on his citizenship application about his role in the crime. Calling the massacre, “reprehensible,” U.S. District Judge William Zloch handed down the maximum sentence allowed for naturalization fraud, stating he wanted the ruling to be a message to “those who commit egregious human rights violations abroad” that they will not find “safe haven from prosecution” in the United States.

On May 5, 2010, agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested Gilberto Jordan, 54, in Palm Beach County, Florida, based on a criminal complaint charging Jordán with lying to U.S. authorities about his service in the Guatemalan Army and his role in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre. The complaint alleged that Jordán, a naturalized American citizen, was part of the special counterinsurgency Kaibiles unit that carried out the massacre of hundreds of residents of the Dos Erres village located in the northwest Petén region. Jordán allegedly helped kill unarmed villagers with his own hands, including a baby he allegedly threw into the village well.

The massacre was part of the Guatemalan military's "scorched earth campaign" and was carried out by the Kaibiles ranger unit. The Kaibiles were specially trained soldiers who became notorious for their use of torture and brutal killing tactics. According to witness testimony, and corroborated through U.S. declassified archives, the Kaibiles entered the town of Dos Erres on the morning of December 6, 1982, and separated the men from women and children. They started torturing the men and raping the women and by the afternoon they had killed almost the entire community, including the children. Nearly the entire town was murdered, their bodies thrown into a well and left in nearby fields. The U.S. documents reveal that American officials deliberated over theories of how an entire town could just "disappear," and concluded that the Army was the only force capable of such an organized atrocity. More than 250 people are believed to have died in the massacre.

The Global Post news organization conducted an investigative report into the investigation of the Guatemalan soldiers living in the United States and cited declassified documents released to the National Security Archive's Guatemala Documentation Project under the Freedom of Information Act. These documents are part of a collection of files assembled by the Archive and turned over to Guatemala's truth commission investigators, who used the files in the writing of their ground-breaking report, "Guatemala: Memory of Silence." [see CEH section on Dos Erres]

The documents include U.S. Embassy cables that describe first-hand accounts by U.S. officials who traveled to the area of Dos Erres and witnessed the devastation left behind by the Kaibiles. Based on their observations and information obtained from sources during their trip, the American officials concluded "that the party most likely responsible for this incident is the Guatemalan Army."


Declassified U.S. Documents on Kaibiles and the Dos Erres Massacre

December 1980
Military Intelligence Summary (MIS), Volume VIII--Latin America
U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Secret, Intelligence Summary, 12 pages

Photos courtesy of Jean-Marie Simon, Guatemala: Eternal Spring, Eternal Tyranny. More photos of Guatemala can be found in Jean-Marie Simon's newly-released Spanish version of her book Guatemala: Eterna Primavera, Eterna Tiranía.

The Defense Intelligence Agency periodically produces intelligence summary reports with information on the structure and capabilities of foreign military forces. On page six of this 1980 summary on the Guatemalan military, the DIA provides information on the Kaibil (ranger) counterinsurgency training center, which is located in La Pólvora, in the Péten. The report describes how each of Guatemala's infantry battalions has a Kaibil platoon, "which may be deployed as a separate small unit. These platoons are used as cadre for training other conscripts in insurgency and counterinsurgency techniques and tactics. The Air Force sends personnel to the Kaibil School for survival training."

November 19, 1982
Army Establishes a Strategic Reaction Force
U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Confidential, Cable, 2 pages

Less than a month before the Dos Erres killings, the DIA reports on the creation of a "strategic reaction force" made up of 20 Kaibil ranger instructors based out of Guatemala City's Mariscal Zavala Brigade. The special unit was assembled in order to carry out the mission "of quickly deploying to locations throughout the country to seek and destroy guerrilla elements." The document indicates that the Kaibil unit was placed under direct control of Guatemala's central military command. It states; "the unit's huge success in previous engagement with the enemy have prompted the Guatemalan Army General Staff (AGS) to assume direct command and control of this unit."

December 10, 1982
Guatemalan Counter Terrorism Capabilities
U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, Secret Cable, 3 pages

Days after the Dos Erres massacre the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala sends a secret cable back to Washington with information on the counter-terrorist tactical capability of the Guatemalan police and military forces. The cable reports that a Kaibil unit, based in the Mariscal Zavala Brigade headquarters, "has recently been deployed to the Petén, and is now operationally under the Poptún Military Bridage."

This reporting coincides with the CEH and OAS summary of the events leading up to the Dos Erres massacre.

December 28, 1982
Alleged Massacre of 200 at Village of Dos R's, Petén
U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, Secret Cable, 3 pages 

As information begins to surface about the Dos Erres massacre U.S. officials look into the matter and report on information obtained through a "reliable embassy source" who tells U.S. officials that the Guatemalan Government Army may have massacred the 200 villagers of Dos Erres. According to the source, an Army unit disguised as guerrillas entered the Dos Erres village gathered the people together and demanded their support. The source tells officials that the villagers knew they were not with the guerrilla, and did not comply with their demands. One villager who managed to escape later recounts the story to people in Las Cruces, 12 kilometers from Dos Erres, and to the Embassy source who relays the information to American officials. Another witness tells the source that the village was completely deserted, and claimed to have found burnt identification cards in the nearby Church.  They also claim that the Army came back to the village a few days later and took roofing and furniture to the Army Base in Las Cruces.

The U.S. officials offer possible theories on why no bodies were found, and on how the entire Dos Erres population could have just "disappeared." One theory was that the Army killed everyone in the village, dumped the bodies into the well, and covered the well over. This was based on the local testimonies of those who had gone into the village and saw that the well was covered over, but they were afraid to look inside.

The cable goes on to say that because of the reliability of the source, and the seriousness of the allegations, that an embassy office will go to investigate on Dec. 30th, 1982.

December 31, 1982
Possible Massacre in "Dos R's", El Petén
U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, Secret Cable, 4 pages

On December 30th three mission members from the U.S. Embassy and a Canadian diplomat visit Las Cruces in Poptún to investigate the allegations of the Dos R's massacre. The document verifies the existence of the Dos Erres village, noting that the settlement was deserted and many of the houses burnt to the ground.

The Mission Team visit the Army Base in Poptún, El Petén, where they speak with the operations officer (S3), who tells the mission members that the area near Las Cruces was exceptionally dangerous because of recent guerrilla activity. Army officials explain how Dos Erres "had suffered from a guerrilla attack in early December," and that it would pose a considerable risk for them to visit the town.  From Poptún, the mission Members fly directly to the town of Las Cruces (using the directions provided by their source) and then to the village of Las Dos Erres. When they reach Dos Erres, however, the helicopter pilot refuses to touch down, but agrees to sweep low over the area. From this view the Embassy officials could see that houses had been "razed or destroyed by fire." They then fly back to Las Cruces to speak with locals, including a member of the local civil defense patrol (PAC) and a "confidant of the Army in the area." He tells officials that the Army was responsible for the disappearance of the people in Dos Erres and that he had been told to keep out of the area in early December, because the army was going to "sweep through." He also confirms the prior reports that the Army officials wore civilian dress during the sweep, but had identifiable Army combat boots and Galil rifles. The cable notes that this information matches that of previous reftel source.

Based on the information obtained during their trip, the cable reports that "Embassy must conclude that the party most likely responsible for this incident is the Guatemalan Army."  


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