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Ramiro Cristales

How Did Ramiro Cristales Get Justice for His Family?

The Dos Erres Massacre took place in a small village in the city of La Libertard, Guatemala on December 6, 1982. About 113 people were killed and several of them were children under 14 years of age. But did you know there was a survivor in the massacre? 

Ramiro Cristales had witnessed soldiers enter his village and murder his parents and other people when he was a young boy. He was then adopted by an abusive family of one of the men who massacred the locals. He testified against the killer, who was sentenced to 6,000 years in jail.

How Did the Massacre Happen?

Ramiro Cristales’ family bred pigs, cows, and poultry and grew corn, beans, and rice. He was destined for some study, but a career in farming was more likely in the cards for him. He had a twin brother named Eldo and other brothers named Victor and Hector. Victor and Petrona were his parents.

Dos Erres was a relative oasis in Guatemala, which was seen as a cauldron of chaos. The civil conflict in the area had raged since 1960 between US-backed government forces and leftist guerillas. The guerrillas ambushed a convoy of soldiers, killing several soldiers and seizing 22 rifles.

Armed soldiers dressed in civilian clothes came to try to find the fighters involved in ambushes near Dos Erres. They believed the village harbored guerilla sympathizers. A few weeks later, in the early hours of December 8, the war arrived and turned out all the lights.

What unfolded next was beyond the vilest imagination: the soldiers started by torturing the men and killing them, then raping the women and killing them, this included the Cristales’ family. 

One of the soldiers, Santos Lopez, spared Cristales’ life and took him home and eventually adopted him. But it was not the end of his suffering, as Lopez treated him as a slave and his family also abused him. (Source: News Interactives)

Ramiro Cristales’ Search for Justice

Aura Elena Farfan was the first to investigate the massacre about a decade ago. Farfan was the head of the Association of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared of Guatemala (FAMDEGUA). This association helps the families find out what happened to the nearly 250,00 killed or missing during the war. Farfan decided to investigate after repeatedly hearing the stories about the well that became a mass grave in Dos Erres.

Farfan discovered that Cristales was still alive and felt disgusted that the soldier involved in the massacre had taken him. Knowing that Cristales wasn’t safe to live in Guatemala, Farfan did everything to help Cristales. Canada agrees to give Cristales asylum. (Source: News Interactives)

The Conviction of the Murderer

Santos Lopez was found guilty of being responsible as author in the massacre in November 2016 and sentenced to 5,160 years in prison: 30 years for crimes against humanity, plus another 30 years for each of the 171 individuals killed in Dos Erres.

According to the International Justice Monitor report, the court acknowledged Cristales’ torture but dropped related accusations since they were not crimes against humanity.

We get justice slow, but we get it, he said. It was both a happy and sad occasion, happy because we’re getting justice, and sadness because I’m not free.

Ramiro Cristales

Cristales is married now with three children and has become a Canadian citizen. He has found a comparatively comfortable place for himself among fellow Canadians. (Source: News Interactives)

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