Journalism in the Public Interest


Finding Oscar: Massacre, Memory and Justice in Guatemala


Oscar Alfredo Ramírez Castañeda holds an album containing photos of Lt. Oscar Ovidio Ramírez Ramos at the back door of his home in Framingham, Mass., on May 13, 2012. (Matthew Healey for ProPublica)

Chapter 1: 'You Don't Know Me'

The call from Guatemala put Oscar on edge.

Prosecutors came looking for you, relatives in his rural hometown told him. Big shots from Guatemala City. They want to talk to you.

Oscar Alfredo Ramírez Castañeda had plenty to lose. Although he was living in the United States illegally, the 31-year-old had built a solid life. He worked two full-time jobs to support his three children and their mother, Nidia. They had settled in a small but cheerful townhouse in Framingham, Mass., a blue-collar suburb of Boston.

Oscar usually did his best to avoid contact with the authorities. But he decided to call the prosecutor in Guatemala City. She said it was a sensitive matter about his childhood and a massacre in the country's civil war long ago. She promised to explain in an email.

Days later, Oscar sat at his computer in a living room full of toys, school trophies, family photos, a crucifix and souvenirs of his native land. He had arrived home from work late at night, as usual. Nidia, seven months pregnant, rested on a couch nearby. The children slept upstairs.

Oscar's green eyes scanned the screen. The email had arrived. He took a breath and clicked.

"You don't know me," it began.

The prosecutor said she was investigating a savage episode of the war, a case that had deeply affected her. In 1982, a squad of army commandos had stormed the village of Dos Erres and slaughtered more than 250 men, women and children.

Two small boys who survived were taken away by the commandos. Twenty-nine years later, 15 years after she had started hunting the killers, the prosecutor had reached an inescapable conclusion: Oscar was one of the boys who had been abducted.

"I know that you were much loved and well treated by the family in which you grew up," the prosecutor wrote. "I hope you have the maturity to absorb everything I am telling you."

"The point is, Oscar Alfredo, that although you don't know it, you were a victim of this sad event I mentioned, just like the other child I told you that we found, and the families of the people who died in that place."

By now, Nidia was reading over his shoulder. The prosecutor said she could arrange a DNA test to confirm her theory. She offered an incentive: help with Oscar's immigration status in the United States.

"This is a decision you must make," she wrote.

Oscar's mind raced through images of his childhood. He struggled to reconcile the prosecutor's words with his memories. He had never known his mother. He did not remember his father, who had never married. Lt. Oscar Ovidio Ramírez Ramos had died in an accident when he was just four. Oscar's grandmother and aunts had raised him to revere his father.

As the family told it, the lieutenant was a hero. He graduated at the top of his academy class, became an elite commando and won medals in combat. Oscar treasured the soldier's red beret, his aging photo album. He liked to leaf through the pictures showing an officer with a bantam build and youthful smile, riding in a tank, carrying the flag.

The lieutenant's nickname, a diminutive of Oscar, was Cocorico. Oscar called himself Cocorico the Second.

"You don't know me."

If the prosecutor's suspicions were correct, Oscar didn't know himself. He was not the son of an honorable soldier. He was a kidnapping victim, a battlefield trophy, living proof of mass murder.

Yet, as overwhelming as the revelation was, Oscar had to admit it was not completely new. A decade earlier, someone had sent him a Guatemalan newspaper article about Dos Erres. It mentioned his name and the supposed abduction. But his family back home convinced him the idea was preposterous, a leftist fabrication.

Far from the harsh realities of Guatemala, Oscar put the story out of his mind. The country he had left was among the most desperate and violent in the Americas. About 200,000 people died in the civil war that had ended in 1996. The right-wing military, accused of genocide in the conflict, remained powerful.

Now, the case was pulling Oscar into Guatemala's struggle with its own tragic history. If he took the DNA test and the results were positive, it would transform his life in dangerous ways. He would become flesh-and-blood evidence in the quest to find justice for the victims of Dos Erres. He would have to accept that his identity, his whole world, had been based on a lie. And he would be a potential target for powerful forces that wanted to keep Guatemala's secrets buried.

Guatemalans wrestled with a similar dilemma. They were divided over how much effort to devote to punish the crimes of the past in a society overwhelmed by lawlessness. The uniformed killers and torturers of the 1980s had helped spawn the mafias, corruption and crime that assail Central America's small and weak states. The Dos Erres investigation was part of the battle against impunity, a fight for the future. But small victories had big potential costs: retaliation, political strife.

Like his country, Oscar would have to choose whether to confront painful truths.

Chapter 2: 'We're Not Dogs For You To Kill'

The fall of 1982 was tense in Petén, Guatemala's northern panhandle near Mexico.

Government troops in the region battled a guerrilla group known as the Fuerzas Armadas Rebeldes (Rebel Armed Forces), or FAR. The nationwide counterinsurgency campaign was methodical and brutal. Dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, a general who had taken power after a coup in March, unleashed search-and-destroy missions on rural villages suspected of sheltering guerrillas.

Although there had been fighting near Dos Erres, the remote jungle hamlet was comparatively calm. It had been founded only four years earlier in a government land redistribution program. Unlike areas where rebels recruited aggressively among the country's indigenous peoples, the residents of Dos Erres were mainly ladinos — Guatemalans of mixed white and indigenous descent. The 60 families who lived in the lush terrain grew beans, corn and pineapples. There were dirt roads, a school and two churches, one Catholic and one evangelical. The village name, which meant "Two R's," was a tribute to the founders, Federico Aquino Ruano and Marcos Reyes.

The area army commander, Lt. Carlos Antonio Carias, wanted the men of Dos Erres to join an armed civil-defense patrol at his base in the town of Las Cruces, about seven miles away. The men resisted, saying they would only patrol their own community. Lt. Carias turned hostile, accusing the people of Dos Erres of harboring guerrillas. He barred residents from flag-raising ceremonies. As evidence of their supposed treachery, he showed his superiors a harvesting sack that bore the initials FAR, claiming it was the insignia of the rebel group. In reality, the sack belonged to the hamlet's cofounder Ruano and was inscribed with his initials.

In October, the army suffered a humiliating defeat in which guerrillas killed a group of soldiers and made off with about 20 rifles. By early December, intelligence indicated the rifles were in the area of Dos Erres. The army decided to send its crack commandos, the Kaibiles, to recover the weapons and teach the villagers a lesson.

The commandos were the point of the spear in an anti-guerrilla offensive that had already drawn international condemnation. Kaibil means "having the strength and astuteness of two tigers" in the Mam indigenous language. With a notoriously harsh training regime in survival skills, counterinsurgency and psychological warfare, the Kaibil commandos were viewed as Latin America's most brutal special forces. Their motto: "If I advance, follow me; if I stop, urge me on; if I retreat, kill me."

The plan was to conceal the identity of the raiders. On Dec. 6, 1982, a 20-man Kaibil squad assembled at a base in Petén and disguised themselves as guerrillas, replacing their uniforms with green T-shirts, civilian pants and red armbands. The 40 uniformed troops who joined them had orders to provide perimeter support and prevent anyone from entering or leaving. Whatever happened in Dos Erres would be blamed on the leftists.

The troops departed at 10 p.m. in two unmarked trucks. They drove until midnight, then hiked for two hours into the dense humid jungle. They were guided by a captive guerrilla who had been forced into the mission.

On the outskirts of the hamlet, the attack squad deployed in the usual configuration of groups: assault, perimeter, combat support and command.

The command group had a radio operator who would communicate with army brass throughout the operation. The assault group consisted of specialists in interrogation and close-quarters, hands-on killing. Even fellow commandos in the squad kept their distance from the marauders of the assault group, whom they viewed as psychopaths.

The Kaibiles chosen for the secret mission were considered the elite of the elite. At 28, Lt. Ramírez was the most experienced of them all.

Known as Cocorico and El Indio (The Indian), Ramírez had graduated at the top of his class in 1975. He had won a scholarship for advanced training in Colombia, but got in trouble for partying and misspending funds. Suspended by the army for six months, he fought in Nicaragua as a mercenary in 1978 for the forces of the dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle, a U.S. ally. Leftist guerrillas toppled Somoza the next year, raising fears of a domino effect and reinforcing Guatemala's role as a strategic bastion for Washington's fight against communism in Central America.

Ramírez returned to Guatemala and joined an artillery unit. Wounded and decorated in November 1981, he engaged in covert operations against guerrillas, often in civilian dress, and developed a reputation for cruelty and thievery. A fellow soldier who served with him considered him "a criminal in uniform."

Other veterans, however, admired his battlefield prowess and loyalty to his troops. Ramírez was a dutiful son, wiring money to his mother each month. The mother complained frequently that the unmarried lieutenant hadn't given her a grandchild.

Ramírez became an instructor at the commando training school in Petén. In 1982, the Ríos Montt regime closed the school and created a roving squad of instructors who were skilled combatants: lieutenants, sergeants, corporals. Ramírez was deputy commander of the unit, which could be deployed rapidly as a strike force in rebel strongholds.

The squad stormed Dos Erres at 2 a.m.

Commandos kicked in doors and rounded up families. Although the soldiers had been ready for a firefight, there was no resistance. They did not find any of the stolen rifles.

The commandos herded the men into a school and the women and children into a church. The violence began before dawn. One of the soldiers, César Ibañez, heard the screams of girls begging for help. Several soldiers watched as Lt. César Adán Rosales Batres raped a girl in front of her family. Following their superior officer, other commandos started raping girls and women.

At midday, the commandos ordered the women they had abused to prepare food at a small ranch. The soldiers ate in shifts, five at a time. Young women cried as they served Ibañez and the others. Returning to his post, Ibañez saw a sergeant leading a girl down an alley.

The sergeant told him the "vaccinations" had started.

The commandos brought the villagers one by one to the center of the hamlet, near a dry well about 40 feet deep. Favio Pinzón Jerez, the squad's cook, and other soldiers reassured the captives that everything would be all right. They were going to be vaccinated. It was a routine health precaution, nothing to worry about.

Commando Gilberto Jordán drew first blood. He carried a baby to the well and hurled it to its death. Jordán wept as he killed the infant. Yet he and another soldier, Manuel Pop Sun, kept throwing children down the well.

The commandos blindfolded the adults and made them kneel, one at a time. They interrogated them about the rifles, aliases, guerrilla leaders. When the villagers protested that they knew nothing, soldiers hit them on the head with a metal sledgehammer. Then they threw them into the well.

"Malditos!" the villagers screamed at their executioners. "Accursed ones."

"Hijos de la gran puta, van a morir!" the soldiers yelled back. "Sons of the great whore, you are going to die!"

Ibañez dumped a woman in the well. Pinzón, the cook, dragged victims there alongside a sub-lieutenant named Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes. When the well was half-filled, a man who was still alive atop the pile of bodies managed to get his blindfold off. He shouted curses up at the commandos.

"Kill me!" the man said.

"Your mother," Sosa retorted.

"Your mother, you son of the great whore!"

Pinzón w

Wesley Sandel

May 25, 2012, 6:01 p.m.

Multiply the story of Dos Erres by a thousand and you have a pretty good idea of what happened in Guatemala in the 1980s and what the School of the Americas is all about.

Anthony Wynands

May 25, 2012, 7:28 p.m.

Fantastic reporting. This is a great trunk to branch out similar stories from. I believe in 2009, the US renovated Kaibil barracks in Poptún (El Infierno training facility), and in 2010, 40 US Marines exchanged tactics and strategies with Kaibiles in Poptún and Petén. Just ask US Marine Major General Jon M. Davis. I hope this awareness sheds light on the other seven Kaibiles criminals.

Would Oscar Ramirez please contact Organization Maya K’iche USA Inc, in New Bedford, Thank you, Gordon Duke, Director of OMK .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Stunning! Sebastian Rotella and Ana Arana have brilliantly and relentlessly tracked a horrific event which was a part of a larger story of similar violence. They tell of the decades long coverup/fallout, how the truth was unraveled, and made the still unfolding search for justice (which never really can be met) a shared personal journey for all of us who’ve read it.

I suspect most of us won’t find the means to respond here unless they are directly connected. It’s all too sad, this kind of violence in the name of (fill in justification here) is all too frequent, and mere words are too weak.

How much is the difference between those Guetemalan killers and the guys in leaderships in the Middle East -who privately took laws at their hands to kill other negative minded guys such as Iranian Scientists, Past World-War criminals etc., in practice of bloody politics or in the name of taking revange?

J. Brad Hicks

May 26, 2012, 2:55 a.m.

And everybody in the US, back in the 1980s, who read more than one news source knew that this was going on. And we knew that via Oliver North, and Bill Casey, and this guy nobody’s heard from since named Dick Cheney, our tax dollars were paying for it.

And those of us who knew about it? Will never know if we did everything we could have done to stop it, or only everything we had the guts to do. What we did wasn’t enough. Would more have been enough? We’ll never know.

And thirty years from now, when the rest of you are reminded that Bradley Manning told you that things as bad as this or worse were going on in your name and with your tax dollars, when you are reminded that Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War told you that you’re paying to have the same things or worse done by the CIA and its allies in Afghanistan and Iraq and Yemen and in black sites hidden all over the world, you’ll have to as yourselves, as I’ve asked myself at least once a year since 1983 or 1984, did you do enough? Could you have stopped it? And then you’ll know how I feel now.

This was one of the most affecting pieces of reporting I have ever read or heard.  I was honored to hear Tranquilino recount the names of his slain children.  Exceptional work.

Anna McCollister-Slipp

May 26, 2012, 1:37 p.m.

Amazing, amazing story. Thank you. Can somebody please tell me that we’re giving Oscar and his wife a green card?!  HIs immigration status was referenced early in the story but never addressed later.

Moving. We must never forget our own government’s part in these and other atrocities throughout Latin America.

Riveting, haunting, extraordinary reportage. Thank you, thank you.

Pete Trujillo

May 26, 2012, 9:49 p.m.

This story brought tears to my eyes! Very moving story! Thank you!

Sara Romero you are a true hero. With this trial you helped shift history. Great story.

Penny Fujiko Willgerodt

May 27, 2012, 3:28 p.m.

Thank you very much for this excellent piece of investigative reporting.  ProPublica has done another superb job.  Hats off to Ana Arana and Sebastian Rotella

It is never too late for the truth to emerge and for justice to be done. Those who raped and murdered who are still in hiding must be found. The history of what happened must not be buried and lost.

The Sperry Fund is deeply honored to support the Dos Erres Education Program which will have its launch event this Wed, May 30, 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Wiener Auditorium, Taubman Building, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge. The participants will be Óscar Ramírez, Tranquilino Castañeda, Fredy Peccerelli of FAFG, Aura Elena Farfán of FAMDEGUA, Kate Doyle of the National Security Archive, and human rights attorney R. Scott Greathead.  If anyone is in the Boston area and interested in attending, please feel welcome to attend.

Thank you very much for this article.  I had chores to do but I couldn’t pull myself away.

And the atrocities and murders are still happening now in Mexico… with the hand of America on the trigger.
In the name of all that is holy, stop the War on Drugs.  Legalize all drugs, defund the war pigs.

Atrocities have taken place since the beginning of time.  Will we ever learn that we are one people?  Your reporting touched me to the core.  I had to pull over, turn the car off and listen for the hour it played on “This American Life.”  There are consequences for our actions, even if they seem to come years later.  And, yes, it only takes one life to make a change.  That wonderful woman who kept up the search, no matter what.  Her chuckle will remain with me as a reminder, a nudge that one has to keep moving forward.

Recently “This American Life” radio show aired this story. It indicated the Oscar was preparing for a visit from his father; due to arrive on Monday. I hope this reunion is covered. Great reporting

Astonishingly powerful, tremendously important story. Could have used a bit more analysis of the US role, but otherwise just stunning.

Incredible story and exceptional reporting.

We should not forget the deep involvement of American Religious Right figures like Pat Robertson and Larry Pratt with dictator Efraín Ríos Montt at the time.

Ruth Cunningham

May 28, 2012, 6:09 p.m.

I agree with jesse m—incredible story and exceptional reporting; and of course courageous perseverance by those intent on justice. 

Also, thank you to each of the individuals who have posted their informative, meaningful comments—each action speaks itself out, and helps everyone as we struggle to create a sane, rational world for all of us to live in. 

I feel honoured to find such people, such efforts, such concern and compassion as is written here, across the board.  There is hope, and its name is responsible action from each of us in all the ways we can each bring-to-life.  We each have a voice and can each make a difference in the redirection of world’s future.

Sabrina Vourvoulias

May 28, 2012, 6:45 p.m.

This is an incredible piece. Many of us who left Guatemala have been waiting to see those responsible for the massacres brought to trial and wondered about the stories of the few survivors. Thank you, too, for ending the story with Alfredo/Oscar’s siblings names - a powerful testament.

When are the Americans responsible for the cover-up going to be prosecuted? hahahahaha

Riveting Report! Tragic story. Would love to attend the launch of the Dos Erres Education Program at Harvard on Wednesday but I live too far away. (Berlin, Germany)
Thank you NPR for bringing this story to my attention and to ProPublica for filling in the details.

Erik Sanches.

May 29, 2012, 2:54 a.m.

Back in 1982 I used to live in Poptun, El Peten, about 1/4 mile away from where the Kaibiles are based, I remember that almost every night Kaibil commandos used to run thru town, singing songs to lift their spirits but at the same time to leave a special sense of Fear in the air. (I was nine years old).  Could it be that the men responsible of this atrocity were the ones running thru town one of those dark rainy nights preparing for their up coming task that was going to take place in Dos Erres??
beautiful job NPR.
y para ti Oscar te deceo lo mejor de lo mejor>

J. Brad Hicks, you’re right on target.  A lot of what’s going on in the “fringe” news was almost routine, thirty years ago.  It was sickening then, and it’s more sickening to see it “rediscovered” after all this time with new horrors sitting in the pipeline.

It’s a great article, but as a lot of people here have pointed out indirectly, it’s just one tiny piece of a very large puzzle.  In reading, remember that the point shouldn’t be to relive the horror, but rather to stand against the next horror and make sure the responsible parties are held accountable, no matter what powers they claim.

John, your comment along with ALL the others, is spot on. It touches on the core of mob mentality so starkly described above: “Kaibil commandos ...Their motto: “If I advance, follow me; if I stop, urge me on; if I retreat, kill me.””  They gave themselves no quarter other than mirror the actions of alpha sociopath leaders.

Unless/until our species begins to acknowledge its own wired in capacity for violence and finds the means to more effectively temper it, we’re doomed to continue repeating the genocide which has been a part of us since our beginnings. As you say, our only means is to stand firm against the next developing genocide and to hold those responsible for past atrocities accountable.

Our track record is abysmal, since we “react” instead of “proact”, mostly out of apathy (not my problem), and political expediency (choose sides - the greater “good”?). Yet most of us who are students of history and are honest with ourselves realize any proactive remedies are transitory, and are in themselves subject to the same kinds of abuses they are originally empowered to prevent.

This powerful story, by making it personal, jerked so many of us to into a profound awareness followed by the sadness of being unable to “fix” the ever present conditions which led to it. Sometimes I’m almost envious of those who choose to turn their attentions to the daily trivia of the Kardashians, ignoring the growing Darwinian mentality, widening income gap, and eroding sense of community in our own country. Only the ignorant believe it can’t happen here.

I spent several months in Guatemala in the eighties, and this piece brings back all the tears. I’m sitting here drenched in tears. The people of Guatemala are so amable, so cheerful, and have such heart. It was always hard to understand how there could be such violence.

This is beautifully reported and written. It’s a shame it doesn’t get more
prominent coverage. I heard it in my state at 7:00 am Sunday.

Justice can happen!!
Mil gracias to all the lawyers and human rights activists that made it happen.

Marjorie Lilly

May 29, 2012, 2:51 p.m.

I spent several months in Guatemala in the eighties, and this piece brings back all the tears. I’m sitting here drenched in tears. The people of Guatemala are so amable, so cheerful, and have such heart. It was always hard to understand how there could be such violence.

This is beautifully reported and written. It’s a shame it doesn’t get more
prominent coverage. I heard it in my state at 7:00 am Sunday.

Justice can happen!!
Mil gracias to all the lawyers and human rights activists that made it happen.
Please don’t use my full name.

John R. Prybot, RPCV-Guatemala, C.A.[San Pedro La

May 29, 2012, 5:53 p.m.

I happened to come upon the Dos Erres masacre-related report by way of WBUR’s Saturday noon broadcast of “This American Life” shortly after it was underway. Having been a Peace Corps volunteer promoting agricultural diversification projects in the Lake Atitlan and adjascent Pacific slope lowland region of southwestern Guatemala for nearly a decade, I was personally deeply moved by the story. During the presidency of general Romeo Lucas Garcia, a gathering of people protesting the injustice of a land seizure by a plantation in the vicinity of Panzos, Alta Verapaz, were massacred by a army contingent sent to confront them. In spite of the effort exerted to suppress any information, details of what had happened nevertheless made their way throughout the whole country—that the contingent of unarmed men, women and children carrying white flags of peace had been fired upon by militares awaiting their arrival right in front of the municipal building itself, those attempting to flee prusued and shot down, their bodies transported in a large government dump truck to a deep pit waiting to receive them that had already been prepared by a bulldozer in advance of the slaughter. On another occasion, a Peace Corps meeting taking place in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second-largest city, happened to coincide with a public manifestacion protesting the rise of electricity fees so that I was present to witness and personally experience the repressive violence unleashed by a massive police contingency when it proceeded to indiscriminately tear gas anyone happening to be in the downtown center vicinity. At the end of the decade of the ‘70’s, PMA unifromed army individuals actually stopped me on several occasions in the countryside, suspicious of my motives, since the people I was working with obviously lacked the material resources to pay for my services.Such agressive interference made impossible to continue, and I left country just before the worst took place, especially concentrated in the provinces of Chimaltenango, El Quiche’, Huehuetenango, Solola’ and Baja Verapaz.
  Fearful of attracting any attention, friends, acquaintances, former neighbors refrained from any communication attempts. Nevertheless, bits and pieces of news as to the nature of awful things taking place penetrated the silence. President Reagan’s defense of general Efrain Rios-Montt’s policies were a outrage to protest against. Senator Lugar’s response supported the Guatemalan army battling leftist insurgency guerrilleros….At this distance removed,  the accumulation of incriminating evidence more clearly removes our own knowing diplomatic complicity in what took place in Guatemela as well the 1954 interference that had seeded the mindset and capacity for it to happen. I is a dark enduring stain against our professed ideals and principles. Those who suffer through our wrong choices should be given the special consideration due them. It is the very least we can offer towards regaining our stained honor and subverted sense of decency.

There are times that I am embarrassed as an American, as Carolyn has written, and there are times like this when so many have empathy for Guatemalans and what we did as far as the Dulles brothers etc. It makes me hopeful. Unfortunately, present conditions in Guatemala have all of the ingredients to make genocide happen again. Few know that Senator Mary Landrieu (D) Louisiana, just made a “Babies for Guns” deal with President Molina. Adoption was a $200 Million per year industry. The House Appropriations bill that was submitted last week does not include a ban on military aid to Guatemala. She has traveled to Guatemala 3 times in the last six months(without media notification) cementing an agreement to lift the ban on adoptions to the U.S. in exchange for military aid.(Weapons and soldiers salaries) A Congressman on Guatemala’s Defense Committee (PP) traveled to Louisiana three weeks ago to work out the final details. The state of seige that was recently enacted had a spin placed on it by President Molina, stating that it was not civilians protesting by civil disobedience, but rather the Zetas causing the problems, because according to the past ban, Guatemala would not receive military aid if the military was used during civil protest, such as protecting the building of the electric dam. I wish more would take note as to the dangerous path that Guatemala is about to take when the U.S. Senate fails to place the ban in their version pretty soon. Please contact Senator Leahy and make them aware that citizens are aware of what is happening, and the ban should remain in effect, especially since President Molina still denies these acts ever happened. President Molina was a Commander in the Kabiles, and has placed a large amount of military personnel in his cabinet, and he is committed on using the military against civilians, period.

Anthony Wynands

May 29, 2012, 9:17 p.m.

This is a good time to mention HR 3368: the Latin America Military Training Act. Sponsored by House Rep. McGovern (D.Mass), HR 3368 will suspend all operations and close the School of the Americas/Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC), and create an independent commission to investigate the history of abuses from “School of Assassins” graduates. A little history, SOA closure almost occurred in 2000, but the DOD cosmetically changed the name and reopened the school. Congress chose to believe it was a different school, but the violations continued. By emailing or calling a local house representative, concerned individuals can influence the position of their congressional voter before the bill hits the floor. Pro-closure legislation has been introduced to Congress since 1993, but it has been a rocky road. Congress continues to believe the WHINSEC is different. Holding SOA graduates like Efraín Rios Montt, and SOA instructors like Pedro Pimentel Rios accountable is only scratching the surface a history of horrors. For more info, to include databases of SOA/WHINSEC grads, go to

Brutal, sad and yet beautiful. Gracias por el notable reportaje al que acompañé con lágrimas en los ojos.

Thank you so much for reporting this and bringing it out to public light.  I heard it on This American Life and it brought out tears.  I wish there can be a follow up on what happens with Oscar and his father when they meet.

Francisco González

May 30, 2012, 1:55 p.m.

I just want to convey my deepest gratitude and respect for all involved in making the exposure of such atrocity possible and for making it available for the whole world to see.  Sadly, this is just one barbaric event of the thousands that we know took place, not only in Guatemala but also in pretty much all of South America….

Valentine Flores

May 30, 2012, 2:17 p.m.

To many stories like this plague this world.  In this case the idea that we share in much of this, like the school of the americas is sad comentary on the country. Man’s inhumanity to man must be condemed over and over, till it becomes a rarity.

And then there is El Aguacate, Panzos,... as they say, over 600 massacres. During a commemoration of the Holocaust, Bill Clinton said “how could we watch and let this happen”, or something close to it. All while letting this other genocide happen. The powers are always aligned. I grew up in Poptún, the home of the Escuala de Kaibiles, that continues to operate there. Las Cruces, Dos Erres, La Libertad, and other small towns in that area is where my older brother worked during those years. I remember a clean-up of soldiers that had been killed, I believe it was the battle described in this story before the Dos Erres massacre. I actually heard some of the details about Dos Erres from my brother before. The facts were always there, it was the proof that could lead to convictions that was missing. I had to stop three times before I could finish reading this story. It really hurts to know that so little has changed in the circles of power and that our U.S. government still finding ways to support the perpetrators, most of them still in powerful positions.

Aldea Josefinos, was a smaller village, about 40 ranchos just 10 kms past the turn to Dos R’s coming from Las Cruces. Josefinos was attacked just before Dos R’s and also emptied, many were able to flee as the attack, the terrain was better and the attack less organized. Most of these massacres have been documented in the REMI project,, and many survived. Like many others, the Josefinos residents mostly fled to Mexico through El Naranjo. One could fill the library of congress over again with the materials available about all of this. Remember, it happened because we all allowed these folks get away with it. Anything that anyone can do today, is just as important, evil does not just go away, it needs to be dealt with.


May 31, 2012, 12:52 a.m.

Thank you again.. Important to highlight that Reagan and several other politicians fully supported these dictators… These days, Mexico and other countries are using the military again, but now the excuse is the drug dealers… please keep opening people’s minds and hearts…

Muchas gracias

I feel deep disappointment at both Pro Publica and WBEZ for completely avoiding the biggest elephant in this room: US involvement in these acts.

We all know where the arms, the training, and many times, the assistance to these psychopaths was coming from.

Shame on you for even cracking jokes and being so smug about the current state of Guatemala during your broadcast. Your tax money made all of this possible.

The crime of Rios Montt was to institute a no-prisoner policy. There were too many torture victims walking around.  No prisoners meant no stories would get out.  The policy was 99% effective, but there is a 1% humanity in even the worst soldiers that compelled them to save just a few.

I just saw the amazing picture of the reunion of Oscar and his father. Thank you to all who continue to believe in finding the truth in Guatemala.

Amazing on every level… First of all, I am amazed by the brave and strong women who pursued this case, relentlessly, until justice was served, the drive they had to uncover the truth and the extreme risks they took. Amazed and shaking my head when i think of the mindless violence and cruelty human beings are capable of. ONCE AGAIN, not only is the united states on the wrong side of history but also complicit either actively or passively in these crimes and this policy continues possibly to this day.
Lets have an entire story or even an entire series on the US involvement in latin america

Justice is being served because the crime by powerful heads was done in Latin America. How about similar but crime in disguise in North-America by some heads?
You may like to visit: for some details of the story that has been building up for the last 5 years.

i think about this that you happen that know that this is not first masacre in america latina, but congratulations for the people that fight day to day for this act, because is very important make justice, on all in this countries, and i include me because im mexican and i know of pain and impunity of us the third countries,
luck for they, that are fighting for the crime, for get a peace that we never have won…