Los Angeles, California - A former member of the Guatemalan army, whom witnesses say participated in a massacre there more than three decades ago that claimed over 200 lives, was deported to his native country Wednesday, capping a longstanding effort by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to win the ex-commando’s removal from the United States.
Santos Lopez Alonzo, 64, arrived in Guatemala at around noon local time on board an ICE Air Operations charter removal flight and was immediately turned over to Guatemalan law enforcement officials. The former member of an elite Guatemalan army unit known as the Kaibiles is wanted in his native country on criminal charges for his role in the Dos Erres massacre. The charges are detailed in an arrest warrant issued by Guatemalan authorities in 2002.
Guatemalan authorities allege Lopez was among some 20 Kaibiles who murdered more than 200 men, women, and children in the village of Las Dos Erres in December 1982. The Kaibiles had gone to the remote Guatemalan settlement seeking to locate insurgents allegedly responsible for the ambush of an army convoy nearby that resulted in the killing of 21 soldiers and the theft of several military rifles. After arriving in the village in the middle of the night, the Kaibiles began searching for the missing weapons, forcing the residents from their homes and interrogating them about the stolen guns. No rifles were recovered.
The soldiers then proceeded to systematically murder the villagers. According to witnesses and documents filed in U.S. courts, over the course of two days the Kaibiles massacred men, women, and children; raped many women and girls; and forced pregnant women to miscarry before killing them. Many of the bodies were thrown into the village’s well and others were left in a nearby wooded area. The settlement was then razed to the ground.
Approximately 12 years after the Dos Erres massacre, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) exhumed the village’s 40-foot well and recovered 162 skeletons, including many belonging to young children.
“The long-awaited return of this human rights violator to his native country is hugely gratifying for the many men and women in ICE who work tirelessly to seek justice in these kinds of cases,” said ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale. “While more than three decades have passed since the Kaibiles commandos indiscriminately slaughtered dozens of innocent men, women and children, it’s a tragedy their loved ones will never forget. We owe it to them, and to all victims of war crimes and human rights abuses around the world, to use every resource at our disposal to ensure the U.S. offers no refuge for those involved in such atrocities.”
Lopez is the fourth Dos Erres massacre participant living in the U.S. to be targeted by ICE for enforcement action. Department of Homeland Security databases indicate Lopez was originally arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol in 1999 at a traffic checkpoint near Kingsville, Texas. He was subsequently ordered deported by an immigration judge with the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review and removed to Guatemala in June of that year.
Lopez illegally re-entered the U.S. and, in February 2010, was arrested by special agents with ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Houston. At the time of his arrest, Lopez had no legal status in the U.S. He was criminally prosecuted for re-entry after deportation and sentenced to time served. Within days of his sentencing, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California designated Lopez as a material witness in an ongoing investigation into the actions of another former Kaibil, Jorge Sosa Orantes. Following Sosa’s conviction in October 2013 for naturalization fraud, Lopez was de-designated as a material witness and transferred back to the custody of ICE, which reinstated his prior removal order. Lopez requested an emergency stay of removal from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which was vigorously opposed by ICE through its attorneys in the Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Litigation. Lopez remained in ICE detention litigating his removal case up until his repatriation. Last month, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Lopez’s request for a stay of removal, paving the way for his return to Guatemala.
Lopez is the second Dos Erres massacre participant living in the U.S. to be deported by ICE to Guatemala to face charges involving war crimes. The first, Pedro Pimentel Rios, was removed in 2011. On March 12, 2012, he was convicted in Guatemala for his role in the massacre and a three-judge panel sentenced him to 6,060 years in prison - 30 years for each of the 201 deaths in Dos Erres, plus 30 years for crimes against humanity.
The remaining two ex-Kaibiles whose cases have been brought forward by ICE so far, Gilberto Jordan and Jorge Sosa Orantes, are both currently serving 10-year federal prison terms for naturalization fraud. ICE will seek to deport both men once they have fulfilled their sentences.
The enforcement efforts targeting the former Kaibiles were overseen by ICE’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC), in close collaboration with the agency’s Human Rights Law Section, and ICE attorneys in Los Angeles. Established in 2009 to further ICE efforts to identify, track and prosecute human rights abusers, the HRVWCC leverages the expertise of a select group of agents, lawyers, intelligence and research specialists, historians and analysts who direct the agency’s broader enforcement efforts against these offenders.
Since fiscal year 2004, ICE has arrested more than 375 individuals for human rights-related violations of the law under various criminal and/or immigration statutes. During that same period, ICE obtained deportation orders for and physically removed more than 815 known or suspected human rights violators from the United States.
Currently, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has more than 140 active investigations into suspected human rights violators and is pursuing more than 1,700 leads and removals cases involving suspected human rights violators from 97 different countries. Over the last four years, the HRVWCC has issued more than 70,000 lookouts for individuals from more than 110 countries and stopped 194 human rights violators and war crimes suspects from entering the U.S.