Moral Low Ground


Pedro Pimentel Rios, Former Guatemalan Kaibiles Soldier, Sentenced to 6,060 Years Prison for Role in ’82 Dos Erres Massacre

U.S.-backed ethnic cleansing in Guatemala.

A former member of an elite U.S.-trained and armed Guatemalan military unit has been sentenced to 6,060 years in prison for his role in the horrific slaughter of 201 people in a 1982 massacre.

The Guardian reports that Pedro Pimentel Rios, a former member of the Kaibiles special forces unit supported by the Reagan administration during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, has been sentenced to 6,060 years behind bars for his role in the December, 1982 Dos Erres massacre, in which some 201 innocent civilians were killed. The sentence, handed down by a three-judge panel, is largely symbolic since Guatemalan law does not permit prison terms longer than 50 years. Pimentel Rios, who is 54 years old, was sentenced to 30 years for each of the 201 victims plus another 30 years for crimes against humanity.

The 1960-1996 Guatemalan civil war claimed more than 200,000 lives, with the U.S.-backed Guatemalan army responsible for the lion’s share of those deaths. But the staunchly anti-communist military rulers of the country were fully supported by the United States, which had overthrown the democratically elected reformist President Jacobo Arbenz, who threatened exploitative U.S. economic interests,  in a 1954 CIA coup.

If the Guatemalan army was brutal, then the Kaibiles were a particularly barbaric bunch: as part of their graduation ritual, members had to fight and kill a dog with their bare hands, tear out its heart and eat it, and chop up the animal’s other organs and guzzle them down in a soup of blood.

After leftist guerrillas ambushed an army convoy near the village of Dos Erres in October 1982, killing 21 government soldiers, the Kaibiles were deployed on December 4. Disguised as guerrillas, the elite soldiers were ordered to kill everything that moved.

The men of Dos Erres were tortured. Children were thrown alive into the village well. Babies had their heads bashed against walls or trees. Girls and women were brutally raped before being shot or bludgeoned to death with sledgehammers, then thrown into the well themselves. Fetuses were torn from pregnant girls and women. Some girls were kept alive for some time after the massacre, raped repeatedly, then strangled when they were no longer “useful.” Only two people, both young boys, are known to have survived. One fled into the jungle, the other was kidnapped and adopted by one of the Kaibiles, who took him to the United States where they lived until the soldier, Santos Lopez Alonzo, was arrested in 2010 and later deported to Guatemala to stand trial for his role in the massacre.

On the very same day that the Kaibiles attacked Las Dos Erres, President Reagan met with Guatemalan President Efrain Rios Montt, who fully supported the killings. Reagan called him “a man of great personal integrity who wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.”

The United States was fully aware of the Dos Erres massacre. “Reliable embassy source relayed… information on possible GOG (government of Guatemala) army massacre of 200 villagers of Los Dos R’s,” reads a declassified State Department cable from the time. Another cable, dated December 31, 1982, tells of a US military helicopter flyover of the destroyed village. “All of the houses in this area were deserted; many had been razed or destroyed by fire. The embassy must conclude that the party most likely responsible for this incident is the Guatemalan army.”

One month later, one of the participants in the Dos Erres massacre, Pimentel Rios was hired as an instructor at the  US Army School of the Americas, then located in Panama, where he was awarded an Army Commendation Medal for meritorious service by US Secretary of the Army John Otto Marsh. At Dos Erres, Pimentel Rios had brutally raped young girls. But to the Reaganites, he was a “freedom fighter.”

Pimentel Rios, like several other Kaibiles who participated in the slaughter at Dos Erres, found refuge in the United States. He settled in Santa Ana, California, where he worked in a sweater factory until being detained in 2010 and deported the following year.

Last August, a Guatemalan court found four other Kaibiles members guilty in connection with Dos Erres and sentenced each of them to 6,060 years in prison.

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