Monday, September 24, 2012

US to Prosecute Guatemalan Ex-Soldier Accused of War Massacre

A former Guatemalan army commander accused of taking part in a civil war massacre has been extradited from Canada to the US to face charges that he lied in his application for US citizenship.

According to a 2009 indictment, Jorge Sosa was a commanding officer in theKaibiles special forces unit which killed more than 200 inhabitants of the village of Dos Erres in 1982, reports Reuters.

A group of 20 Kaibiles went to the village to look for guerrillas who had attacked an army patrol. Their victims included men, women and children, and the soldiers raped some before killing them. They attacked the villagers with sledgehammers and threw bodies down a well. Two ex-soldiers have testified that Sosa oversaw the slaughter, as well as throwing a grenade into a pile of living and dead bodies, reports ProPublica.

Sosa told ProPublica that he was not guilty, and had been in another village carrying out public works projects at the time of the massacre.

The US is not charging Sosa for the murders, but for lying about whether he had committed a crime and whether he had been a member of a foreign military in his 2008 application for citizenship. He fled from Guatemala to California with his family in the 1980s after being threatened by the Guatemalan government for “speaking out,” according to his daughter Christina. Sosa had been working in the US as a karate instructor.

ProPublica reports that Sosa left his home in California in 2010 to avoid prosecution, going first to Mexico then Canada. He was arrested in Canada in January 2011, and has been fighting extradition since then.

Ramiro Osorio Cristales, a survivor of the massacre, told the Calgary Sun that he was angry that Sosa was being extradited from Canada, where he could have been prosecuted for the killings under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.

Christina Sosa told the LA Times at the time of his arrest in 2010 that her father was being used as a scapegoat, while former President Efrain Rios Montt, who allegedly ordered the killings, still had a seat in Congress. She pointed out that Sosa, who is 54 today, “was just a young soldier when this happened.”

Rios Montt is now facing trial for war crimes, after his term in Congress ended and he lost his immunity.

Sosa is the fourth ex-soldier accused of taking part in the Dos Erres massacre to be targeted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center, according to Reuters. A former commando called Gilberto Jordan, a Florida resident, is currently serving 10 years in federal prison in the US after confessing to lying about his role in the massacre.


Central American Politics points out that the Open Society Institute is holding an event on September 26 that will look at the facts around the Dos Erres massacre.

News Briefs

  • A lawyer representing campesino groups in disputes with Honduran landowners has been gunned down while attending a wedding in Tegucigalpa. As well as working with the groups in the Bajo Aguan region, where a land conflict has been raging for more than two years, Antonio Trejo Cabrera had been part of the opposition to a proposal to build private cities that would have their own laws and tax systems, reports the Associated Press.
  • The New York Times looks at the relationship between Venezuela and the US in the context of the joint operation, with Colombia and the UK, to catch Colombian drug lord Daniel “El Loco” Barrera last week. It says that this does not seem to signal a new era of cooperation, and that it is possible the two countries did not communicate directly, but both liaised with Colombia. Indeed, the capture of a number of big traffickers in Venezuela in recent months may signify not the strength of the country's institutions, but rather that these fugitives ran out of money to pay bribes to the authorities, as InSight Crime’s Jeremy McDermott told the paper.
  • President Rafael Correa has proposed transferring WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from Ecuador’s London Embassy to its Swedish Embassy, so that he can be questioned by the Swedish authorities, reports MercoPress.
  • The Wall Street Journal profiles Colombia’s new finance minister, who says that he wants to address the country’s inequalities, while maintaining macroeconomic stability. Mauricio Cardenas told the newspaper that the government was interested in Brazil’s policy to bring down energy prices by forcing companies to charge less, and that interest rate cuts will continue.
  • The Argentine government has told opposition media organization Grupo Clarin that it has to sell off many of its broadcast stations by December 7 to comply with a 2009 law limiting the amount of media outlets a company can own. Clarin newspaper accused the government making the declaration in retaliation against its coverage of recent anti-government protests, reports the AP.
  • The LA Times blog reports that a congressman stabbed to death in a suburb of Mexico City this month was killed by his wife, and not by organized criminal groups. Jaime Serrano Cedillo’s murder was cited by the government as part of the reason for the recent deployment of some 1,000 federal forces to Nezahualcoyotl, as InSight Crime reported.
  • Mitt Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan made a trip to Miami in an attempt to appeal to hardline anti-Castro voters by criticizing Obama’s Cuba policy, reports the NYT.
  • Andres Oppenheimer at the Miami Herald argues that Romney missed his best opportunity to distance himself from “anti-immigration extremists” in the Republican party when he spoke at a Univision/Facebook forum in Miami last week.
  • The Statesman of Austin, Texas has a piece on a documentary called "El Velador" ("The Night Watchman"), about a cemetery in Culiacan, Sinaloa, where many drug lords have ostentatious tombs.
  • The AP reports on the emerging “evangelical fashion” in Brazil, where the spread of born-again Pentecostalism has resulted in an increasing number of shops selling modest clothing, including “polyester putty-colored potato sack dresses.” It cites a prediction that by 2030 evangelicals, who now make up 22 percent of the population, could be in the majority.