A Guy Told Of How He Testified Against His Adoptive Father – The Man Who Murdered His Parents

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Throughout history, certain people have had to face down some terrifying incidents. From wars to natural disasters, these events can leave a permanent mark on the individual in the years that follow. Ramiro Osorio Cristales can definitely relate to that, as he shared details of his own ordeal inside a courtroom in 2018.

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During Osorio’s younger years he lived in Dos Erres, a village located in Guatemala. He grew up alongside his six brothers and sisters, staying in a house with their parents. But in December 1982 his life changed forever after he and his family received a loud knock at their front door.

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At that point in time, a civil war in Guatemala had been raging for over two decades, with a number of rebel factions opposing the country’s government. On that note, the rebels attacked one of the army’s convoys in the fall of 1982, resulting in the deaths of more than 20 troops. Consequently, something absolutely horrific then took place.

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Around two months after the attack, the army sent its special forces unit to Dos Erres. Upon their arrival, soldiers reportedly took part in a hideous massacre of the village’s residents, inflicting more than 200 deaths. Osorio managed to survive the nightmare – but his experiences later led to his involvement in an emotional trial.

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In today’s society, it’s sometimes easy to take certain things for granted. Indeed, there are plenty of individuals who have never experienced warfare firsthand, having grown up during peaceful times in their respective countries. Sadly, though, not everyone has been that fortunate, with wars playing a significant role in many people’s lives.

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For thousands of years, wars have raged between various countries and factions. From the two World Wars to the conflict in Vietnam, these periods in human history continue to be discussed and studied in schools today. But beyond the more well-known conflicts, there have been other confrontations that have proven just as devastating in recent times.

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Towards the end of the 1970s, for instance, nations in Central America were subjected to some particularly trying times. Internal conflicts and revolutions started to emerge during the period, ultimately altering the political landscape of the region. Guatemala was one such country to experience the fierce turmoil of the time.

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Up until the middle of the 1940s, Guatemala had been ruled by an authoritarian government for several decades. During that time, numerous people were uprooted from their homes, with the situation becoming even worse in 1931. That year, a man named Jorge Ubico was named as the country’s new leader.

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Over the next 13 years, Guatemala became a police state, leading more people to be displaced from their homes. As it turned out, a vital influence upon these dispossessions – before and after Ubico’s government took power – was an American business called the United Fruit Company. This firm was permitted by the state to take land from the locals for the sake of its business interests.

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But then, everything changed in the summer of 1944. At around that point, a group of college students and labor workers – people who had aligned to form a democratic movement – were able to remove Ubico from power. But their hard work didn’t end there, as soon yet another obstacle emerged.

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Prior to Ubico’s resignation, he had ensured that a small military group would assume power, continuing an authoritarian form of rule. And for the next four months the group did just that, enforcing political strategies similar to before. In October 1944, though, the regime came to an end thanks to a coup.

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From there, an election was called to name Guatemala’s new leader, with philosophy professor Juan José Arévalo winning the race. After bringing in a number of popular changes, he was then replaced at the conclusion of his tenure in 1951. Then, off the back of that, a man named Jacobo Árbenz won the next election.

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Árbenz, who played a crucial role in the original coup, followed Arévalo’s lead as president, maintaining the changes he had previously made. In addition to that, the new leader also brought about a land reform initiative called Decree 900. This particular program benefited the poorer residents of the country, who were subsequently given land which had not yet been exposed to farming.

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Thanks to Decree 900, around half a million Guatemalans saw improvements to their livelihoods during the period. But there was yet another big change just on the horizon. The United Fruit Company was far from happy with Árbenz’s reforms, as the business had pieces of land taken away from it. And so it pushed the American government to dispose of the country’s popular president.

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Noting the United Fruit Company’s complaints, America’s state department labeled Árbenz as a communist. The Central Intelligence Agency then went on to stage a coup in 1954, with Guatemala’s leader losing his power. At that stage, the country’s “Ten Years of Spring” – as that time came to be known – reached its end.

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Following that significant event, the C.I.A. placed a new dictator in charge of Guatemala, as Carlos Castillo Armas took on the role. With that, authoritarian rule returned. But some six years on from the coup, the country was plunged into a civil war that would last for over three decades.

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Indeed, the conflict between the rebels and the government finally concluded in 1996, but there were some devastating losses along the way. By the end of the civil war, it’s believed that around 200,000 Guatemalans had died. Despite those eye-opening numbers, though, one event from the confrontation continues to stand out.

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Over the course of those 36 years, the Guatemalan government was chastised for its genocidal acts against the country’s people. One particularly notable incident occurred back in December 1982, as the residents of Dos Erres were terrorized by a special forces unit called the Kaibiles. Their arrival was provoked by an attack some two months previously.

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That October, more than 20 soldiers died in a rebel ambush close to Dos Erres, with several weapons being taken as well. At the start of December, a large group of Kaibiles were then dispatched to the village to carry out some horrific instructions. According to the Guatemalan government, the local residents were “guerrilla sympathizers” – and so they all had to die.

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To infiltrate Dos Erres, the Kaibiles dressed themselves up as rebel fighters. Given what was about to happen, their appearance was also designed to keep the army out of the headlines. And so with that in mind, the soldiers entered the village in the early hours of December 6, 1982.

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Ramiro Osorio Cristales was one of those living in Dos Erres at that time, staying with his large family. When the Kaibiles arrived at his front door, he was just five years old. Presumably, the youngster had no idea what was coming next, as his father approached the entrance of their house to answer the soldiers’ call.

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In 2018 Osorio looked back on those events in vivid detail, recalling the nightmare that followed during a court hearing. “I remember that one night, some men arrived at our house and knocked on the door,” he told the courtroom. “[The Kaibiles] began to beat down the door, which woke us up.”

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Osorio continued, “[The Kaibiles] yelled at us to open the door or they would kick it in. When my dad opened the door, they hit him. Then they tied up his hands. They forced my mom and my brothers and me to the center of the village. They split us up.”

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At that point, a real panic started to set in among the gathered villagers, as more families were broken up by the Kaibiles. Given the situation, Osorio wasn’t the only one to feel confused. Along with a number of other residents, he was subsequently taken inside Dos Erres’ local church.

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“[The Kaibiles] took my dad and my older brother to the schoolhouse, and they took me and my other brothers and my mom to the church,” Osorio recalled. “There were many people there already. Everyone was asking why they were doing this. Nobody knew. The women were crying. Some of them had been beaten.”

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Osorio added, “I did not understand what was happening.” Meanwhile, the youngster then started to pick up on some worrying sounds from the school building – the place where his dad and brother were being held. As the screams became clearer, a member of the Kaibil offered up a chilling warning to those in the church.

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“If you know how to pray, pray, because no one is going to save you from this,” the soldier supposedly said. After that, things took an even darker turn, as one of the girls in the church was forcibly taken away. Osorio later heard her crying outside. He would later come to realize that she had been raped.

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However, that didn’t signal the end of the horror, with the Kaibiles turning their attention toward Osorio’s mom. “I was holding her tightly by the leg,” he told the court. “A man came, grabbed her by the hair and dragged her away. The man who separated me from her told me to stay with him.”

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Santos López was the man in question, keeping Osorio away from his mom. But while López was handling the youngster, his little sister was then taken away by another Kaibil, who threw her into tree by her legs. As the nightmarish scene continued to unfurl around him, he eventually went to sleep inside the church.

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By the time Osorio woke up, his family had disappeared, and was left in the company of two other kids. From there, the Kaibiles departed Dos Erres with Osorio and one of the remaining kids in their possession. On their way out, the five-year-old saw a number of dismembered bodies in the village – including his dad.

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A few days later, Osorio encountered López once more, as the pair traveled together aboard a helicopter. They eventually arrived at the Kaibil Training Center, where the youngster received a haircut and was dressed in military gear. And as he recalled his experiences in the trial in 2018, he dropped another bombshell.

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“I went with [López] thinking it was a good idea,” Osorio admitted to the courtroom. “But it was a bad decision on my part. He took me to his house to live. I didn’t know that later he would become my tormentor. That man had the opportunity to kill me, but thank God he didn’t do it.”

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López went on to adopt Osorio illegally following the Dos Erres massacre. Unfortunately, though, the boy’s life didn’t get better from there, as he was regularly abused by the soldier. Not only was he refused food before going to school, but he was beaten and made to work as well.

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When looking back on that period, Osorio told the trial, “[López] never hit or mistreated his own children the way he did me.” Despite all that abuse, López still made sure that the youngster referred to him as “dad,” although the words were always hollow. The survivor added, “They are not my parents. My parents died at Dos Erres.”

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For the next few years, Osorio continued to live with López’s family, desperate to get away. In his early 20s, he finally found an escape route via the Guatemalan army. However, that brought with it a number of complex emotions, given the role that the military played in the massacre.

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By the time that Osorio joined the military, the conflict had been over for two years, but the drama didn’t end there. Indeed, two different organizations started to look for him at that point, as investigations into the massacre began. On that note, the soldier reached out and received some important help, leading to his emigration to Canada.

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As for López, he was forced to leave America back in 2016, having moved there illegally in the years that followed. The Kaibil was then sent back to Guatemala to stand trial for what happened in Dos Erres. Osorio’s tormentor was accused of causing over 170 deaths in the atrocity, which overall claimed the lives of more than 200 people.

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Following Osorio’s testimony at the trial, he had one last thing to say on the matter. “It is time for justice for all of those who are no longer here, whose light was snuffed out,” said the survivor. “But one light was left and I am that light. I am asking you to send those who committed this crime into the darkness.”

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López was finally sentenced for his crimes in November 2018. After assessing the evidence, the judges gave him a 5,000-year prison sentence, which lined up with the deaths he caused back in 1982. At the end of the trial, Osorio then reflected on his role in bringing down the Guatemalan soldier.

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However, for that to happen, Osorio needed to overcome an understandable fear during the hearing. “Was I still afraid of [López]? Yes, I was,” he told the BBC World Service in December 2018. “But I had to speak out against him. I wanted to be the voice of those who cannot be here.”

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