Victim of Guatemalan civil war massacre wins asylum in U.S.

Reuters News

9/24/2012 7:27:25 PM - Reuters News

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - One of two known survivors of a notorious Guatemalan civil war massacre of 250 men, women and children in his small farming village has been granted political asylum to stay in the United States, his lawyer said on Monday.

Oscar Ramirez Casteneda, 33, who learned only last year that he had been kidnapped as a young boy by a Guatemalan army lieutenant during the 1982 bloodshed and raised by the man's family, was notified in a letter on Saturday that he had won asylum, attorney Scott Greathead said.

"Oscar is very, very grateful to get asylum, which means he can remain in the United States with his wife and their four children," Greathead said. "And if he hadn't gotten it, his prospects would have been very, very dangerous in Guatemala because he is so implicated in these cases against members of the Guatemalan military.

A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman, Mariana Gitomer, declined to comment, citing the agency's policy against discussing asylum cases.

Casteneda received the letter granting him asylum one day after a former Guatemalan army commando accused of taking part in the massacre in the village of Dos Erres was extradited to the United States from Canada to face charges that he lied about his past to gain U.S. citizenship.

Jorge Sosa, 54, also known as Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes, was due to make an initial court appearance in U.S. District Court in Riverside, east of Los Angeles, later on Monday.

U.S. prosecutors, who have no jurisdiction in Guatemala, have not charged Sosa in connection with the massacre but say that if he is convicted he could be sent back to his home country to face charges there after serving his U.S. sentence.

Casteneda, now a restaurant manager in Framingham, Massachusetts, was assisting prosecutors in the case against Sosa and other members of a Guatemalan special forces unit known as the "Kaibiles" accused of taking part in the horrific events at Dos Erres, Greathead said.

Nearly all of the 250 people living in Dos Erres perished over three days in what is considered one of the worst atrocities of Guatemala's bloody, 36-year civil war.

Many of the victims were killed with a blow from a sledgehammer and dumped into a well, and women and girls were raped before they were murdered.

The Kaibiles unit had been dispatched to Dos Erres to find members of a guerrilla group that had ambushed a military convoy in November 1982, killing soldiers and taking their weapons.

Casteneda, who was 3 years of age at the time, is one of only two people believed to have survived, along with a 5-year-old boy who also was abducted by soldiers, Greathead said.

Casteneda's mother and eight siblings died in the attack, and his father, who was away from the village at the time, believed that his 3-year-old son had perished as well, until DNA tests established that his child had survived, leading to a reunion between the two men. (Editing by Steve Gorman; Editing by M.D. Golan)