Finding Oscar: Massacre, Memory and Justice in Guatemala

Sebastian Rotella and Ana Arana, Finding Oscar: Massacre, Memory and Justice in Guatemala. ProPublica and Fundación MEPI, 25 May 2012. “In 1982 amid Guatemala’s brutal civil war, 20 army commandos invaded the jungle hamlet of Dos Erres disguised as rebels. The squad members, called Kaibiles, cut their way through the town, killing more than 250 people. Only a handful survived. One, a 3-year-old boy, was abducted by a Kaibil officer and raised by his family. It took 30 years for Oscar Alfredo Ramírez Castañeda to learn the truth.”

Excerpt from story:

Within just a few weeks, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala had figured out what happened in Dos Erres.

A “trusted source” told embassy officials that soldiers posing as rebels had killed more than 200 people. It was the latest in a stream of reports to the embassy blaming the military for massacres around the country. On Dec. 30, three U.S. officials went to Las Cruces, where interviews with local residents raised further suspicions.

The team flew over Dos Erres in a helicopter. Although the Guatemalan Air Force pilot refused to land, the evidence of an atrocity — burned houses, abandoned fields — was clear enough. In an unusually blunt cable to Washington, diplomats stated that “the party most likely responsible for this incident is the Guatemalan Army.”

The U.S. government kept that conclusion secret until 1998. No action was taken against the army or the commando squad. The United States continued to support Central America’s repressive but avowedly anti-communist governments.

It would be 14 years before anyone tried to bring the killers of Dos Erres to justice…

This story was co-reported with This American Life from WBEZ Chicago, which produced a one-hour radio version airing this weekend [25 May 2012] on these stations and available for download at 8 p.m. EST Sunday. Also co-reporting was Fundación MEPI in Mexico City, which published the story in Spanish