Guatemalan immigrants gathered outside a US courthouse as a former Guatemalan soldier was sentenced to a maximum 10-year prison sentence for lying on his citizenship forms about his role in the massacre that destroyed a village in their home country in 1982.
Jorge Sosa, 55, was also stripped of his US citizenship on Monday.
The soldiers who killed more than 160 people in Dos Erres “took any memory of my family away from me,” said Oscar Ramirez, who lost his mother and seven siblings in the massacre in the tiny village of Dos Erres during the country’s civil war.
Comrades testified that Sosa fired a weapon into a well filled with screaming villagers and stood by as soldiers under his command raped and killed women.
“These are the crimes the defendant lied about and didn’t disclose,” US District Court Judge Virginia Phillips told the court. “The particular facts of what occurred on Dec. 7, 1982, at Dos Erres cannot be characterized in any other way than as crimes.”
The case is one of several aimed at perpetrators of the massacre that took place at the height of Guatemala’s 36-year civil war.
At least 200,000 people were killed during the civil war in Guatemala, mostly by state forces and paramilitary groups seeking to wipe out a left-wing uprising. The US supported Guatemala’s military governments during the war.
Five former soldiers have each been sentenced in Guatemala to more than 6,000 years in prison for the killings, while one of Sosa’s former comrades is serving a decade-long sentence in a US prison for lying on his immigration forms.
Sosa pleaded with the court for clemency, saying he has lived as a law-abiding, faithful Catholic in the US and in Canada, where he is also a citizen, and disagreed with the jury’s verdict.
“I did not have a just trial and ... the truth was covered,” Sosa said in Spanish through a court interpreter. “I am innocent and I am not guilty.”
Sosa contends he was not in Dos Erres during the massacre and plans to appeal, defense lawyer Shashi Kewalramani said.
Sosa was arrested in Canada in 2011 and extradited to face charges in the US. He was convicted by a jury last year of making false statements and illegally obtaining citizenship in 2008.
After serving his sentence, Sosa could be returned to Guatemala, which is seeking his extradition to prosecute him for the massacre, assistant US attorney Jeannie Joseph said.
“It sends a message to other war criminals to not find a safe haven here,” Joseph said.
In 1982, a special forces patrol was dispatched to Dos Erres to search for weapons believed stolen by guerrillas. No weapons were found, but soldiers raped women and officers decided to round up villagers and kill them.
After the war, Guatemala issued arrest warrants for more than a dozen soldiers implicated in the killings, but the cases languished until the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2009 demanded the country prosecute the perpetrators.