Guatemalan Man Accused Of War Crimes Is Denied Bail In Boston Immigration Court

Juan Alecio Samayoa Cabrera, left, with his wife. (Courtesy)
Juan Alecio Samayoa Cabrera, left, with his wife. (Courtesy)

Accused Guatemalan war criminal Juan Alecio Samayoa Cabrera has been denied bail by an immigration judge in Boston.

Department of Homeland Security attorney Jennifer Mulcahy argued Judge Jose Sanchez did not have the jurisdiction to release Samayoa, citing a law that strips judges of the power to grant bond if the detainee is accused of committing certain war crimes, like torture.

The accusations against the 67-year-old stem from the Guatemalan Civil War, which ran from 1960 to 1996.

“The documentary evidence," Mulcahy said, "shows [Samayoa] did in fact participate himself, order others, and incited extrajudicial killings, as well as acts that would satisfy the definition of torture.”

Authorities in Guatemala say Samayoa is wanted in connection with scores of murders, rapes and kidnappings in 1982 and 1983.

By his own admission, Samayoa led a paramilitary squad of 500 men, siding with the government in a war against guerrilla revolutionaries. He fled Guatemala a decade after taking up arms, entered the U.S. illegally and was denied asylum during the early 2000s.

Samayoa has lived in Providence since the early 1990s, and he was arrested for immigration violations in October. He has refused to comment on the case to WBUR.

On Thursday morning in immigration court, Samayoa’s attorney, Hans Bremer, painted his client as a reasonable actor during a horrible war.

The paramilitary unit "was basically a self-defense group that the neighborhood formed to avoid being slaughtered during the civil war,” Bremer said. “And they protected one another. It was a horrible time, we all know it was a horrible time, your honor."

Bremer claimed it's hard to imagine someone who has led a "wonderful life" absent of violent crime in the U.S., could be capable of the allegations Samayoa faces.

Though Samayoa has been in and out of immigration court since the 1990s, Bremer said this is the first mention of war crimes.

"At no point ... until very recently, did the government ever even insinuate that he had been involved in anything that they're now insinuating," he said.

Judge Sanchez, however, agreed with the prosecution, ruling on Thursday that, due to the nature of the alleged crimes, he lacked the authority to grant Samayoa bond.

Sanchez will later decide whether Samayoa stays in the U.S., or if he leaves to face justice in Guatemala, where authorities say they await his arrival with an arrest warrant.

The next hearing in Samayoa's deportation proceedings is set for Jan. 9.


Headshot of Simón Rios

Simón Rios Reporter
Simón Rios is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.



More from WBUR

Listen Live