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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.
On Dec. 4, 1982, when the massacres in the Guatemalan countryside were fully under way, Reagan met with Rios Montt. Reagan publicly described Rios Montt as “a man of great personal integrity…[who] wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.” Reagan said that Rios Montt had received a “bum rap” from human rights groups.
It was an inauspicious day to make such a show of support. On the same day Reagan spoke, the 17 members of the Kaibiles squad arrived at a military base near Las Dos Erres. On Dec. 7, the massacre started. Over the following two days, the men are alleged to have killed 251 residents of Las Dos Erres. “Everything that moved had to be killed,” one of the soldiers later wrote in a sworn statement.
Last month archaeologists began exhuming the mass grave and DNA testing is now underway to confirm the identities of those killed.
“I lost everything”
The Kaibiles tortured the men first. They then began throwing children alive into the village well. Women were shot or beaten to death with a sledgehammer and then thrown in. Men were then shot and dumped on top. One of the Kaibiles abducted a 5-year-old boy. Another boy escaped. They may be the only surviving witnesses.
Cristales, the abducted boy, told GlobalPost that he had always hated Alonzo, even though Alonzo had saved his life after the massacre. Cristales said the Alonzo family treated him like a virtual slave, forcing him to look after the family’s cows, beating him and even trying to kill him at times. Cristales always knew that Alonzo had taken part in the killing of his biological family. Throughout his stolen childhood, Cristales cherished memories of the family his adoptive father had allegedly helped wipe out.
“I remember my mom,” Cristales said. “She was a very nice-looking woman. She loved animals. She have everything — chickens, roosters, pigs, dogs. My dad, he was like a farmer. They have cows, two horses. I remember when him and my older brothers have to go to the farm and take care of the corn, the beans. We are living from whatever they are growing. From the land. And now I lost my family. I lost the land and I lost everything. I lost everything. Now I start again with my own family. It’s hard because I wish my dad and my mom were still alive, you know, because my question is: how can I explain to my daughter where is my grandma or my grandpa? Now she doesn’t know but when she’s getting old she will ask. What am I supposed to tell her?”
About five years ago Cristales spoke to the man he had to call “father” for the last time on the telephone. Some years earlier Alonzo had told Cristales that if he, Alonzo, were ever arrested and charged in relation to the massacre at Las Dos Erres then Cristales should testify on his behalf.
Now, in this last phone conversation, the boy had one last thing to say to him: “If you have to pay something,” Cristales told Alonzo, “you have to pay.”
A few days ago, Cristales was told that Alonzo was in custody and that at least one more accused killer would likely be arrested in the U.S. Cristales stopped in the parking lot of the restaurant where we was about to eat breakfast. He was calm and expressed some anxiety about the reliability of the Guatemalan justice system. Of the men, he said simply: “I’d like to see them.”
This story was reported by McAllester in New York and Washington and by Larry Kaplow in Guatemala and Washington. It was written by McAllester.
Read about Guatemala's ongoing investigation of the Las Dos Erres massacre.
Read the full interview with Ramiro Cristales.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the first name of Gilberto Jordan.