Guatemala massacre is focus of Moreno Valley man’s immigration trial
Decades after that December day in the Guatemalan village, the former soldier could remember the women’s screams. Their cries for help, he said, rang out from the church as the soldiers raped them. He recalled the bloodshed and the victims flung into a well, some still alive as they plunged.
“At Dos Eres, the people were humble people,” the soldier, Cesar Franco Ibanez, said of the 1982 massacre of more than 200 villagers. “They had no weapons.”
In a Riverside courtroom this week, Jorge Sosa, a Moreno Valley martial arts instructor, is on trial, accused of lying on his application for U.S. citizenship. Prosecutors have taken the opportunity to delve into the violence Sosa is accused of trying to hide from immigration officials.
Sosa, who has both U.S. and Canadian citizenship, was extradited from Canada a year ago.
He faces 15 years in prison and having his U.S. citizenship revoked if he is convicted of omitting on immigration documents his involvement in the Guatemalan military during the civil war, authorities said. The forms also asked applicants whether they had committed crimes for which they were not arrested, another question he is accused of not answering truthfully.
Federal prosecutors say Sosa was a commanding officer in the special operations force, known as the Kaibiles, and was dispatched to Dos Eres after guerrilla rebels ambushed a military convoy, killing soldiers and taking their rifles. Sosa was part of a group of commandos sent to the village to search for the stolen weapons.
During the search, the men and women were separated — the women taken to a church; the men to a school — and interrogated before the commandos began shooting and bludgeoning the villagers. The weapons weren’t found.
Prosecutors said Sosa fired into the well where the bodies had been dumped and also threw in a grenade. Years later, the remains of more than 160 would be removed from the well.
Despite prosecutors’ focus on the details of the massacre, Sosa’s attorney argued in his opening statement that the violence was beyond the scope of the case. The trial was about whether Sosa purposefully neglected to list his military service.
“The case is an ex-soldier’s answer on an immigration form,” Shashi Kewalramani said. “It’s not a war crimes tribunal.”
Kewalramani said that in previous documents Sosa filed as part of a failed attempt to gain political asylum, his client had noted his time in the military and included a letter that contained a threat against his family because of his service.
Immigration officials could see that document, years later, when Sosa was being considered for naturalization, Kewalramani said.
But in court Wednesday, prosecutors showed portions of the application, in particular where applicants are asked to list any previous affiliations and foreign military service. On Sosa’s form, it said “none.”
Prosecutors also called witnesses who had served with Sosa in the Kaibiles and were in Dos Eres.
Gilberto Jordan, who shuffled into the courtroom in shackles, was sentenced in 2010 to 10 years in prison and had his U.S. citizenship revoked for a conviction on charges similar to Sosa’s.
Jordan said that the Kaibiles was an elite unit, whose members were chosen from among the best army recruits and endured difficult training. Many soldiers, he said, “would flock to the training and more than half would leave.”
Ibanez, who now works as an appliance technician, said he was following orders when he took part in the rapes and threw women into the well.
“We had to throw someone into the well to show that we were committed to the patrol,” he said.
After the massacre, Ibanez said, the soldiers were ordered to stay quiet about the attack, and were threatened with death if they said anything.
He later surrendered and, as a protected witness, told authorities in Guatemala about what happened in the massacre.
He lives in an undisclosed country that is neither Guatemala nor the United States. He receives a monthly stipend of about $550 from the Guatemalan government, which, he says, goes toward paying for his children’s education.
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