Ex-Guatemalan Soldier, Implicated in Mass Murder, Brought to L.A. on Immigration Charge

Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes as a young soldier

Thirty years after the infamous Dos Erres massacre in Guatemala, one of the men believed responsible for the slaughter of 250 villagers has been extradited from Canada to Los Angeles for lying on a U.S. citizenship application.

Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes was a lieutenant and commander in 1982 of a special operations unit hunting for rebels who had killed 19 soldiers, according to U.S. and Guatemalan documents. He allegedly oversaw the rape, torture and massacre of men, women and children, who, in one instance were thrown down a well before being blown up with a hand-grenade. No rebel connections in the village were established.

Sosa has denied he was present during the assault. 

The 54-year-old fugitive came to the United States after the 30-year Guatemalan civil war―which cost 220,000 people their lives―ended in 1996. Sosa allegedly lied about his military service on immigration forms to gain residency in 1998, and denied involvement in any crimes for which he had not been arrested.

He moved to Moreno Valley, became a well-known martial arts teacher and was granted U.S. citizenship in 2008. Sosa also obtained citizenship in Canada, where he has relatives, and fled to Alberta in 2010, after a brief stop in Mexico, when authorities closed in him. Canadian authorities arrested him in January and he lost an extradition fight there last month.

Sosa cannot be charged in the U.S. for crimes committed during the massacre, but could get 15 years in prison for lying on immigration forms and also face possible extradition to Guatemala.

Four men convicted in Guatemala City last year for their roles in the massacre were sentenced to more than 6,000 years total in prison. Former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, who had close ties to the United States during his 1982-83 tenure, has also been indicted for the Dos Erres massacre.   

The United States has a long, tortuous history with Guatemala. The CIA organized a military coup in 1954 that overthrew the legitimately-elected President Jacobo Arbenz, whose proposed reforms threatened the massive land holdings of the United Fruit Company (known today as Chiquita). A series of brutal right-wing dictatorships, supported by the U.S., followed the coup, with an estimated 50,000 Guatemalans dying at the hands of government-supported death squads in the ‘70s alone. 

U.S. support for Guatemalan dictators continued until the Carter presidency began in 1977. President Jimmy Carter initiated an arms embargo that was overturned by his successor, President Ronald Reagan, who initiated a rearming and training of the military.   

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Former Guatemalan Army Commander Extradited to Los Angeles (by Sam Quinones, Los Angeles Times)

Immigration Charges For Accused Commando In Dos Erres Massacre (by Sebastian Rotella, ProPublica)

The Dos Erres Massacre (The Center for Justice and Accountability)

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