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Human Rights Violators
01/06/2017

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ICE arrests former Guatemalan special forces member linked to 1980s massacre

HYATTSVILLE, Md. – A former member of the Guatemalan army, whom witnesses say participated in a massacre there more than three decades ago that claimed over 200 lives, was arrested today by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and charged in immigration court with having assisted or otherwise participated in extrajudicial killings during that massacre.

Jose Mardoqueo Ortiz Morales, 54, was arrested by special agents from HSI’s Baltimore office. As a former member of an elite Guatemalan army unit known as the Kaibiles, Ortiz Morales is wanted in his native country on criminal charges for murder, war crimes, and crimes against humanity for his role in the Dos Erres massacre.

Guatemalan authorities allege Ortiz Morales was among some 20 Kaibiles who murdered more than 200 men, women, and children in the village of Las Dos Erres in December 1982. The Kaibiles went to the remote Guatemalan settlement in search of insurgents allegedly responsible for the ambush of an army convoy nearby that left 20 soldiers dead. Insurgents also allegedly made off with 21 military rifles. The Kaibiles arrived in the village in the middle of the night, and began searching for the missing weapons, forcing residents from their homes to interrogate them. No military rifles were recovered.

The Kaibiles proceeded to systematically murder the villagers. According to witnesses and documents filed in U.S. courts, over the course of two days the Kaibiles massacred men, women, and children; raped many women and girls; and forced pregnant women to miscarry before killing them. Many of the bodies were thrown into the village’s well and others were left in a nearby wooded area. The settlement was then razed to the ground. 

Approximately 12 years after the Dos Erres massacre, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) exhumed the village’s 40-foot well and recovered 162 skeletons, including many belonging to young children.

“Those who would evade charges for atrocities committed abroad will not find safe haven in the United States,” said HSI Special Agent in Charge, Andre R. Watson. “War criminals and human rights violators will be sent home to face justice.”

Ortiz Morales is the fifth participant in the Dos Erres massacre living in the U.S. to be targeted by ICE for enforcement action. At the time of his arrest, Ortiz Morales was a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. 

ICE has previously removed two Dos Erres massacre participants from the U.S. to Guatemala to face war crimes charges. The first, Pedro Pimentel Rios, was removed in 2011 and on March 12, 2012, convicted for his role in the massacre, and sentenced to 6,060 years in prison. The second, Santos Lopez Alonzo, was removed to Guatemala on August 10, 2016; he remains detained while awaiting the start of his trial in January 2017.  The remaining two ex-Kaibiles, Gilberto Jordan and Jorge Sosa Orantes, are both currently serving 10-year federal prison terms for naturalization fraud.  ICE will seek to deport both men once they have fulfilled their sentences.

The enforcement efforts targeting the former Kaibiles were supported by ICE’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC). Established in 2009 to further ICE’s efforts to identify, track and prosecute human rights abusers, the HRVWCC leverages the expertise of a select group of agents, lawyers, intelligence and research specialists, historians and analysts who direct the agency’s broader enforcement efforts against these offenders. 

Since 2004, ICE has arrested more than 375 individuals for human rights-related violations of the law under various criminal and/or immigration statutes. During that same period, ICE obtained deportation orders and/order physically removed from the United States more than 815 known or suspected human rights violators.

Currently, HSI has more than 140 active investigations into suspected human rights violators and is pursuing more than 1,750 leads and removals cases involving suspected human rights violators from 93 different countries. Since 2004, the HRVWCC has issued more than 70,400 lookouts for individuals from more than 110 countries and stopped 213 human rights violators and war crimes suspects from entering the U.S.

Members of the public who have information about foreign nationals suspected of engaging in human rights abuses or war crimes are urged to call the ICE tip line at - 1-866-DHS-2423 (1-866-347-2423). Callers may remain anonymous. To learn more about the assistance available to victims in these cases, the public should contact ICE’s confidential victim-witness toll-free number at 1-866-872-4973.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 01/09/2017