THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Survivor of Guatemala civil war learns his true identity

By David Abel
Globe Staff / May 27, 2012
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Thirty years ago, at the height of the civil war in Guatemala, a group of government soldiers led an assault on the northern village of Dos Erres, massacring more than 250 men, women, and children.

They left just two survivors: two light-skinned, green-eyed young boys.

Last year, more than a decade after he moved to Framingham to seek work, Oscar Alfredo Ramírez Castañedareceived a call from his hometown in Guatemala that would change his life.

The 32-year-old father of four learned that he was one of those two survivors, and that he had been kidnapped and raised by the family of one of the commanders who led the raid on Dos Erres.

He also learned that there was another survivor who happened to be away from the village on that bloody day in 1982: his father.

The slaughter in Dos Erres was one of 600 mass killings in a 36-year-long war that left more than 200,000 people dead.

“Before, I thought the guerrillas and the army killed each other in the war. But I didn’t know that they massacred innocent people,” Ramírez Castañeda told ProPublica, a nonprofit online news site, which on Friday published a long story titled “Finding Oscar: Massacre, Memory, and Justice in Guatemala” (http://www.propublica.org/article/finding-oscar-massacre-memory-and-justice-in-guatemala). “I imagine there is a connection between the violence of the past and the present. If you don’t catch these people, it keeps spreading. People do whatever they want.”

The story, a version of which also aired this weekend on the radio program “This American Life,” (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/465/what-happened-at-dos-erres) recounts how Ramírez Castañeda is coming to terms with his true identity.

It also casts light on how the US embassy in Guatemala knew of the massacres in Dos Erres and elsewhere but kept the information secret until 1998; how a prosecutor in Guatemala spent 15 years seeking justice for the victims of Dos Erres; and how the prosecutor tracked down Ramírez Castañeda and sought to reunite him with his father, now 70, who was shocked to learn that his son had survived.

It also details how a Guatemalan court last August found three former commandos of the squad guilty of murder and human rights violations for the massacre in Dos Erres.

The defendants each received sentences of 6,060 years in prison, or 30 years for every one of the 201 identified victims plus 30 more for crimes against humanity.

Seven suspects remain at large, including two of the squad’s top officers. Authorities told ProPublica they think the suspects could be in the United States or in Guatemala, sheltered by powerful networks linking the military and organized crime.

The man who Ramírez Castañeda thought was his father, Lieutenant Oscar Ovidio Ramírez Ramos, died in a trucking accident eight months after kidnapping the boy. Ramírez Castañeda was raised by the lieutenant’s mother in what he described as a loving household.

Ramírez Castañeda is seeking political asylum in the United States.

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.

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