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US rounds up Guatemalans accused of war crimes

One works as a cook. Another as a karate teacher. They are accused of war crimes in Guatemala — yet they've been living in the US for years.

Alonzo’s history of entering the country illegally stretches back to the 1990s, according to court records.

He was first “apprehended on March 24, 1999, in Hidalgo, Texas, by the U.S. Border Patrol, and … charged with being present in the United States without permission,” reads an affidavit written by an agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Feb. 23 of this year. The affidavit notes that Alonzo was deported to Guatemala on June 1, 1999. It is unclear when Alonzo re-entered the United States after that.

U.S. involvement

Human rights groups have long criticized the involvement of the American government and military in Guatemala. The Las Dos Erres case reveals several connections between the two countries.

The U.S. government knew the Guatemalan army was probably responsible for the massacre at Las Dos Erres, yet the School of the Americas began to welcome new instructors and students from the army only days after the killings.

The U.S. government did not know the names of the alleged perpetrators in the immediate aftermath, but it did know about the massacre, according to de-classified cables sent by the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City to the State Department in late 1982 and early 1983, and obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Washington-based National Security Archives.

“Reliable embassy source relayed second- and third-hand information on possible GOG [Government of Guatemala] army massacre of 200 villagers of Los [sic] Dos R’s, Peten Department, supposed to have taken place December 12,” reads a cable dated Dec. 28, 1982.

Another cable, dated Dec. 31, 1982, describes three members of the U.S. military flying over Las Dos Erres in a helicopter. “All of the houses in this area were deserted; many had been razed or destroyed by fire,” the cable reads. The cable continues: “The embassy must conclude that the party most likely responsible for this incident is the Guatemalan Army.”

In the 1970s, President Jimmy Carter had introduced a ban on cooperating with the Guatemalan military. But President Ronald Reagan lifted the ban and the School of the Americas began admitting Guatemalan soldiers, including Rios, one of the alleged perpetrators of the massacre.

Rios’ time at the School of the Americas appears to have been successful. He was given an Army Commendation Medal for meritorious service by the then-U.S. Secretary of the Army John Otho Marsh in 1985.

Rios — like the other three men — belonged to an elite commando unit named Los Kaibiles. Kaibiles commanders used to pledge that “The Kaibil is a killing machine.” Cristales, the abducted boy, said Alonzo once told him that everyone in his Kaibil graduating class had to fight and kill a dog with his bare hands, tear out the dog’s heart, eat it, chop up the other innards and drink it with the dog’s blood.

It is not known if the Department of Defense or the U.S. officials who ran the School of the Americas knew that Rios was a Kaibil.

Marsh, the former U.S. Army secretary, was reached by telephone Tuesday at the surveying company where he now works in Winchester, Va., and asked why he had awarded Rios a medal. Marsh told GlobalPost: “I don’t know the facts you’re talking about. Secondly, medals like that are given out all the time, arbitrarily … . Sometimes they make a mistake.” He then hung up the telephone.

The Kaibiles spearheaded the Guatemalan campaign of ethnic cleansing. Human rights groups, law enforcement sources and numerous figures in Guatemala say that the then-president, Efrain Rios Montt, fully supported the blood-letting as he sought to crush anti-government forces in the countryside. Rios Montt is also a graduate of the School of the Americas.

Just as the massacres were intensifying, Reagan re-established military and political cooperation with the Guatemalan government. Reagan saw Rios Montt as a useful ally against leftist guerrillas and maintained friendly relations in the face of evidence that Rios Montt’s government was responsible for increasing numbers of civilian massacres. (In July 1982, Amnesty International published a report listing more than 50 massacres of non-combatant civilians by the military.)