Deported Ex Kaibil Faces Charges in the Dos Erres Massacre Case

On June 10, a judge in Guatemala will decide whether to send a former Kaibil special forces soldier to trial for the Dos Erres massacre. Last March, former Kaibil soldier Gilberto Jordán, 64, was deported from the United States to his native Guatemala, where he was immediately arrested for his involvement in the December 1982 massacre.

Authorities in the U.S. convicted Jordán in 2010 of immigration fraud and for lying on his immigration forms about his involvement in the massacre. Jordán, who admitted to having participated in the massacre to U.S. immigration officials, was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison. He now faces charges in Guatemala of crimes against humanity for the murder of an estimated 200 people in Dos Erres.

Judge Claudette Domínguez, who is presiding over the pretrial hearings, summoned the parties to the first declaration hearing on May 12 and 13, where the prosecution presented the charges against Jordán. Judge Domínguez has scheduled a ruling on whether there is sufficient merit for the case to move to evidentiary hearings for June 10.

To date, Guatemalan courts have convicted six men—five Kaibil soldiers and one army official—for their responsibility in the Dos Erres massacre.

The Charges

Government prosecutor Paula Herrarte presented the charges against Jordán. According to Herrarte, Jordán was a Guatemalan army corporal and a member of the special forces Kaibil patrol that set out to locate 21 rifles that had been stolen after a guerrilla attack on a military convoy. Military intelligence traced the stolen rifles to the “conflictive and red” zone of Dos Erres, a small colony of farmers in Peten.

The Kaibil unit mobilized to the Santa Elena air base in Peten, where they received logistical support from the high command of Military Zone No. 23, the General Luís García León Military Brigade. After two days at Santa Elena, on December 6, 1982, the Kaibil unit received the order to prepare the attack. Herrarte said at the military base, they were given extra ammunition, food, and civilian clothes to hide their identities.

According to Herrarte, Jordán was part of the “assault unit” of about 20 Kaibil soldiers that arrived in Dos Erres at 2:00 a.m. on December 7. The soldiers burst in the homes of the sleeping inhabitants, violently removed them from their homes, and separated them into two groups. The soldiers forced the men into the community school while women and children were forced into the church.

At approximately 4:00 a.m., Herrarte said, the commander of the assault unit, Lieutenant César Rosales, began to rape the women. This degenerated into the mass rape of the captured women, Herrarte said, noting that Jordán was among the patrol members who sexually assaulted the captured women. Hours later, soldiers forced five of the women who had been sexually assaulted to prepare meals for their assailants.

Later in the afternoon, the Kaibil commanders gave the order to execute all inhabitants of Dos Erres. The Kaibiles brought the men and women to the edge of the well, interrogated them about the rifles, and, after they said they knew nothing about them, hit them in the head with a sledgehammer and threw them into the well. Referencing the investigation of the massacre in the final report of the Commission of Historical Clarification, Herrarte affirmed that soldiers killed at least 162 men, women, and children at Las Dos Erres.

The accused participated directly in the killing, the prosecutor said. Jordán was one of the first soldiers to arrive at the well. He was carrying a small boy who was crying. Herrarte said that Jordán threw the boy, still alive, into the well. (Jordán admitted this to U.S. authorities when he was arrested in 2010). After the killing spree, the soldiers fired their weapons and threw grenades into the well, then covered it up with dirt to conceal the evidence. Herrarte proceeded to read the names of the victims exhumed from the well. She noted that a 2009 judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the State of Guatemala responsible for the massacre and noted that at least 200 civilians had been killed at Las Dos Erres.

Herrarte argued that through his participation in sexual violence, interrogations under torture, cruel and inhuman treatment, and the deprivation of liberty of at least 200 non-combatant civilians, Jordán violated Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. The prosecutor accused Jordán of the murder of 171 residents of the Dos Erres, which she said was premeditated and committed with malice and cruelty. (This number refers to the human remains exhumed from the massacre site in the 1990s.) She also charged him with crimes against humanity against at least 200 non-combatant civilians.

“All the People have Disappeared”

Herrarte stated that the evidence in the case is abundant and includes the testimonies of 36 survivors and relatives of victims, as well as of two protected witnesses who were members of the Kaibil assault unit. The witness testimonies narrate the destruction and looting of Dos Erres carried out by Kaibil soldiers under the command of the “Las Cruces” detachment, Lt. Carlos Carías López. In 2011, a court in Guatemala convicted Carías López and sentenced him to 6,066 years in prison for his responsibility in the massacre.

According to the prosecution, witnesses will explain how the army cordoned off the village after entering to prevent anyone from leaving during the assault, and how they burned homes and stole livestock. Witnesses will also testify that the reason the army suspected the village of guerrilla sympathies was that a villager named Federico Aquino Ruano marked his produce bags with his initials, “FAR,” the acronym of the Rebel Armed Forces, a guerrilla group active at the time in Guatemala.

The prosecution said that Salomé Armando Gómez Hernández, who managed to escape in the midst of the Kaibil assault on Dos Erres, would testify. Gómez, who was 11 at the time, will testify about the army’s cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of the villagers, the mass rape of women, and the manner in which soldiers executed women and children. Gómez has testified in previous trials against other members of the Kaibil assault unit.

Ramiro Antonio Osorio Cristales will also testify. He was one of the two children who were kidnapped by members of the Kaibil unit after the massacre. Herrarte said that Osorio would testify about the sexual assault of the women who were detained in the community church along with the children. Osorio testified in 2018 in the trial of former Kaibil Santos Lopez Alonzo, who kidnapped him and appropriated his identity. Lopez Alonzo was found guilty and sentenced to 5,160 years in prison.

Two former Kaibil officials who were part of the assault unit, Favio Pinzón Jerez and César Franco Ibañez, will also provide eyewitness testimony of the military operation, the sexual violence of women, the murder of the townspeople, and the kidnapping of the children. Herrarte said that they would identify the accused, Gilberto Jordán, as a member of the assault unit and the person who was the first to throw a child into the well.  

The prosecution also noted that they would present several expert witnesses, including retired Peruvian general Rodolfo Robles, who will discuss the military command structure of the Guatemalan army as well as the counterinsurgency strategy it deployed in the 1980s. Historians Manolo Vela and Roberto Morales will provide the historical context of the creation of the Dos Erres community; the reason the army designated the village as an “internal enemy”; and why the military responded to the loss of 21 rifles with a brutal massacre. Forensic experts will testify about the exhumations of the massacre site conducted in the 1990s.

Part of a declassified U.S. government document

The prosecution noted that several official documents would be presented as evidence. This includes military plans, including the “Victoria 82” campaign plan and the military intelligence annex of the “Fireza 83-1” campaign plan, which refers to the FAR ambush of an army patrol just weeks before the Dos Erres massacre. Declassified U.S. government documents produced after a fly-over visit by U.S. personnel to the Dos Erres village will also be presented as evidence. One such document notes that the while “no bodies have been found, all the people have disappeared” and concludes that the party most likely responsible for “the disappearance and possible liquidation of hundreds of people” is the Guatemalan army.

The Guatemalan Association of Families of the Detained-Disappeared (FAMDEGUA) represents victims in this case. FAMDEGUA’s founding member, Aura Elena Farfán, led the investigation into what happened at Dos Erres for several years. At the hearing, Javier García, a lawyer with FAMDEGUA, expressed his agreement with the charges presented by the Attorney General’s Office, noting that the accused has been identified as one of the Kaibil soldiers who carried out the Dos Erres massacre. He called upon the judge to indict Jordán for his role in the massacre.

“Following Orders”

Defense lawyer Edgar Zamora stated that while he would not deny that the massacre at Dos Erres took place, his client was merely “following orders issued by his superiors.” He argued that the prosecution failed to provide specific evidence linking Jordán to the alleged crimes. Zamora questioned the veracity of testimonies of the two former Kaibil patrol members and asked the judge to dismiss them as evidence. He argued further that his client is quiet and withdrawn, which contrasts with the portrait being painted of him by the prosecution. He called on the judge to dismiss the charges against his client.  

Jo-Marie Burt is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Latin American Studies at George Mason University. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Paulo Estrada is a human rights activist, archaeology student at San Carlos University, and civil party in the Military Diary case.