Immigrant Accused Of Guatemalan War Crimes May Be Deported Last fall, federal officials arrested Juan Samayoa for immigration violations after investigating his activity during Guatemala's civil war. He had been living in Providence, R.I., illegally.
NPR logo

Immigrant Accused Of Guatemalan War Crimes May Be Deported

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/585815522/590121884" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Immigrant Accused Of Guatemalan War Crimes May Be Deported

Immigrant Accused Of Guatemalan War Crimes May Be Deported

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/585815522/590121884" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Authorities in Guatemala want to arrest a man for alleged war crimes, but they can't until the U.S. deports him. From member station WBUR, Simon Rios reports.

SIMON RIOS, BYLINE: Three years ago, a woman waiting in line at a Walgreens in Providence, R.I., recognized the man behind her - his face and black sombrero - the man she believes is responsible for the disappearance of her father and uncle. It was Juan Samayoa, a paramilitary leader from the Guatemalan civil war, who's haunted her since she was a little girl. She confronted him outside the store.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Through interpreter) I told him he is very famous. Then I asked if he remembers my uncle and father. He started to shake, and his facial expression changed. Then I got a lump in my throat, and I never saw him again.

RIOS: The Providence woman is an indigenous Mayan, part of a group that suffered what is widely seen as a genocide in a war that claimed roughly 200,000 lives. The woman is from the same town in the eastern highlands of Guatemala where Samayoa has admitted to leading a paramilitary unit of 500 men. She requested anonymity because she fears allies of the alleged war criminal could come after her children here in the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Through interpreter) My father disappeared on July 12, of 1982. And two years later, my mother died of cancer. We were alone. We suffered hunger, pain, fear and insecurity. We were children.

RIOS: And the man she believes killed her father owns a house less than a mile from her home in Providence. Samayoa is 67 years old and has been living in the city illegally since the 1990s. He's been in and out of immigration proceedings since he fled Guatemala but managed to stay in Providence working as a landscaper. Last fall, immigration authorities arrested him for immigration violations after investigating his activity during the war. Authorities in Guatemala say they're waiting for Samayoa with an arrest warrant for crimes including rape and murder.

HILDA PINEDA: (Through interpreter) That's what we're looking for - for him to be sentenced based on the facts.

RIOS: Hilda Pineda is Guatemala's top human rights prosecutor. She says she wants Samayoa to be deported, so he can face charges there.

PINEDA: (Through interpreter) I think he's a very bloodthirsty person with a great level of cruelty given the way he killed his victims. They were subjected to torture.

RIOS: Guatemalan court documents point to Samayoa's involvement in 38 murders, dozens of kidnappings and 14 rapes carried out in the early 1980s. The allegations include burying people alive and torching their homes.

BLANCA SAMAYOA: (Speaking Spanish).

RIOS: Blanca Samayoa was a housewife during Guatemala's civil war. She paints her husband as a man who works hard and does good in the world. Blanca Samayoa wouldn't respond to allegations of rape and murder against her husband, but because of those allegations, she says she now lives in fear.

SAMAYOA: (Through interpreter) Of course this affects me because we're working people, and we're proud of that. We are people who don't hurt anybody. We help people

RIOS: In immigration court, Samayoa's lawyer Hans Bremer casts doubt on the accusation of war crimes. Bremer told the judge that Samayoa's role as a paramilitary leader was basically self-defence during a horrible war. But for the local Guatemalans, who believe Samayoa is responsible for the death of their loved ones, his deportation proceeding is a cause for hope.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

RIOS: The Providence woman, who ran into Samayoa at a pharmacy, says she hopes he'll be forced to identify the place where her father's bones are. She wants to give him a Christian burial. As for Samayoa and the prosecutors trying to deport him, they'll lay out their arguments in court. For NPR News, I'm Simon Rios.

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.