Photo: Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes
A federal jury convicted a former Guatemalan army lieutenant Tuesday of immigration fraud, finding that he obtained U.S. citizenship in 2008 by concealing his role in the massacre of 250 men, women and children during Guatemala’s civil war three decades ago.
Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes, who for a time had operated three karate schools in Southern California, became the highest-ranking former soldier convicted on charges related to the slaughter that wiped out the jungle hamlet of Dos Erres in 1982. Investigations in the United States and Guatemala have achieved unusual progress in the case, the only mass killing among hundreds in the 30-year Guatemalan civil war for which soldiers have been held accountable.
Sosa, 55, will be sentenced Dec. 9. He faces a prison term of at least 10 years, loss of U.S. citizenship and then deportation to Guatemala, where he is charged with murder. U.S. authorities also have jailed two other former members of Sosa’s commando squad on immigration charges, while Guatemalan courts have convicted five Army veterans for the Dos Erres massacre itself.
Seven suspects, including two commanders, remain at large in a nation where war criminals are often protected by the security forces and criminal mafias.
Sosa, a second lieutenant during the war, was the junior officer among four lieutenants in the 20-man elite unit of commandos known as “Kaibiles.” Jurors heard grim testimony from two participants and a survivor during the five-day trial. Sosa played a key role as a leader of the squad’s “assault team” specialized in interrogations and hands-on killing, according to testimony of two former soldiers.
The compactly-built martial arts expert oversaw the systematic extermination of villagers in the center of the hamlet, ordering his men to throw victims — including babies — into a well. Sosa fired his gun and threw a grenade into the pile of living and dead bodies in the well, according to testimony.