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Guatemala: Unearthing a massacre

Will there finally be justice for more than 100 villagers raped and buried alive during Guatemala's civil war?

The population of about 350 might have first aroused the military’s anger when some residents refused to join the government’s civil patrols. Then, in October 1982, guerrillas killed several soldiers in another part of the region. The army picked up false intelligence that the guerrillas had captured about 20 army rifles from the fallen soldiers and hid them in Las Dos Erres. Kaibiles, known for their brutal training methods, were flown in to find the weapons and kill the residents. They wore civilian clothes with the intent of blaming the guerrillas, according to the human rights court.

Those investigating the case say about 60 Kaibiles, armed with Israeli Galil rifles, showed up in the early morning of Dec. 7, 1982. Regular soldiers formed a perimeter as the Kaibiles pulled families from their homes, which were hundreds of yards apart. Prosecutors say the Kaibiles performed assigned roles and probably had committed other massacres.

Family members of the victims kept an intense eye during the two days of exhumation earlier this month.
(Larry Kaplow/GlobalPost)

Men were taken to the school and women and children to one of the churches. It’s alleged the Kaibiles raped women and girls, either to spread terror or simply as war spoils. The Inter-American Court summary conjectures that pregnant women were beaten into miscarriages.

Kaibiles tortured the men in the morning, demanding the missing weapons. After noon the executions began. According to those familiar with the two Kaibiles’ testimony, the victims were led in small groups or individually from the holding locations to Kaibiles at the well. Children were thrown in first, still alive. Women were shot or beaten to death with a sledgehammer and then thrown in. Men were then shot and dumped in the well until it was nearly filled and dirt was placed to cover the top. Some bodies were also left a few hundred yards away in some woods and a shallow water retention ditch.

One of the Kaibiles abducted the 5-year-old boy — an occasional army custom. Another boy escaped and, now grown, has also agreed to testify. They may be the only surviving witnesses.

Arevalo, the man who recently revisited the site with his son and a reporter, says he was elsewhere on civil patrol duty. Others were working or staying with relatives in other towns. They were forbidden from returning, fed the lie that the area was closed after a guerrilla attack.

But four days later, Arevelo was allowed to join a convoy of troops taking some residents to retrieve personal affects. His house was ransacked. Flies and stench hovered over the filled well. “I knew immediately my family was down there,” he says. Troops burned homes as he left.

Few believed guerrillas could have staged such an attack. The villagers weren’t allowed back to work their parcels of land and most lost them through foreclosures or confiscations.