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Santa Ana man deported in connection with 1982 Guatemala massacre

Pedro Pimentel Rios is accused of being part of an elite Guatemalan army unit that murdered at least 160 villagers — including nearly 70 children under age 12.

July 13, 2011|By Paloma Esquivel, Los Angeles Times
  • Pedro Pimentel Rios is taken onto an Immigration and Customs Enforcement flight.
Pedro Pimentel Rios is taken onto an Immigration and Customs Enforcement… (Immigration and Customs…)

Nearly 30 years after the massacre of dozens of men, women and children during Guatemala's civil war, a Santa Ana maintenance worker who was allegedly a member of the elite military unit that carried out the killings was deported and turned over to authorities in that country to face charges.

Pedro Pimentel Rios is accused of being among some 20 members of an elite Guatemalan army unit known as the Kaibiles that murdered at least 160 villagers — including nearly 70 children under age 12 — in the village of Dos Erres in December 1982, according to immigration officials. Other reports of the massacre, including one by the Organization of American States' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, put the total number of dead as high as 251.

Pimentel Rios, 54, was ordered deported in May by a federal immigration judge. He landed in Guatemala on Tuesday afternoon on a federal immigration charter removal flight and was turned over to Guatemalan authorities to face charges.

According to immigration officials, the Kaibiles went to Dos Erres, in northern Guatemala, looking for insurgents who they believed had ambushed and stolen rifles from an army convoy. Though no rifles were found, the villagers were killed. The victims were bludgeoned with sledgehammers, shot or strangled and then thrown into a well.

The massacre was largely ignored until the mid-1990s, when governmental and non-governmental agencies began looking into the event and many of the bodies were exhumed for investigation, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

In 2008, after a list of several individuals charged in the massacre was released, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials began looking through their own records to see whether any of those charged had immigrated to the U.S., said John Woods, the deputy assistant director of ICE's national security investigations division.

Their investigation found that four alleged members of the Kaibiles, including Pimentel Rios, had been granted immigration benefits in the U.S.

This year, Jorge Sosa, a martial arts instructor in Moreno Valley, was arrested in Canada. He is awaiting extradition to the United States to face criminal charges for naturalization fraud for allegedly lying on his citizenship application about his military service.

Last year, Santos Lopez Alonzo was arrested by ICE agents in Houston and charged with reentry after deportation. Another alleged member of the unit, Gilberto Jordan of South Florida, was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison for lying about his role in the massacre while applying for U.S. citizenship.

"This is a great day for justice," Woods said. The U.S., he said, "is not going to be the conduit for people who commit these atrocities to live out their lives in peace."

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