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The Soldier and the Survivor: He helped put his captor behind bars – The Fifth Estate

The Soldier and the Survivor: He helped put his captor behind bars – The Fifth Estate


[Nahlah] Behind the countless
faces we wordlessly pass each day, there are countless stories
of struggle and survival, some of them beyond words. One of them is Ramiro Cristales,
a 41-year-old Canadian. Works in construction,
married with three children, but with a past that
constantly haunts his present. Ramiro remembers. He was only five years old when
danger came to his doorstep and would put his life
on a darker path. His had been the uncomplicated
life of children growing up in a farming village in
rural Guatemala. But it was a time of turmoil. [Helicopter Rotors] [Nahlah] And the
violence was closing in. A military dictatorship
unleashing its wrath on its own people. Soldiers, on a determined
hunt for guerrilla fighters. Massacres and
bodies were piling up. One of the most infamous was
about to unfold in Dos Erres, Ramiro’s village.
December 1982. Soldiers looking for
fighters behind an ambush, came to the village in
in civilian clothes. [Nahlah] Ramiro’s mother
and father were tied up. The whole family ordered out. Ramiro’s memory is of the men
marching everyone to the centre of town. [Nahlah] It was this man who
took Ramiro’s mother away. Santos Lopez Alonzo, a face
the boy would never forget, and one he would
encounter again. Ramiro was left in the village
church with other women and children, but he was still
within earshot when the soldiers started torturing
the men, then later, raping the women. [Nahlah] So there was like
slats and you could watch? [Ramiro] Yeah, slats, yeah.
And then you can see. [Nahlah] You witnessed the
murder of your own sister. Yeah. [Nahlah] Terrible sounds
were coming from the village’s unfinished well. Ramiro remembers
hearing screaming, and then he
remembers hearing it stop. He was sure he would be next. What’s happened since that
forced Ramiro to live a secret life in Canada? We went to Guatemala to
ask questions of our own, and meet someone who fought
for Ramiro even before she knew he existed. Aura Elena Farfan made it
her mission to find out what happened. She says, so that
history never repeats itself. Dozens of the children of
Dos Erres were killed in the massacre. Testament to the
brutality of the perpetrators. Aura Elena went to Dos
Erres to investigate. As motivated as she was in
searching for her own brother, who was disappeared in the war. [Speaking Alternate Language] [Nahlah] No one else had
dared to bring forensic anthropologists to get to
the bottom of that well, and the truth. [Speaking Alternate Language] [Nahlah] What they
found was horrifying. The remains of 162 people. Some shot, others
bludgeoned with a sledgehammer. All thrown in,
even if still alive. [Speaking Alternate Language] [Nahlah] But Aura Elena wasn’t
content to let the truth stay buried, so she kept digging. And what she learned
next was stunning. When all the killing was over,
Ramiro and another boy were still alive. [Speaking Alternate Language] [Nahlah] Unimaginable. The men who had ruthlessly
killed so many would spare anyone, but they spared Ramiro. Trophy or act of mercy,
it wasn’t clear. Ramiro remembers the
soldiers taking him, then asking if he recognized
any of the bodies they passed. His will to survive
dictated the answer, even as a child. [Nahlah] And just when it seemed
Ramiro had lived his darkest hour, the very man he saw
taking his mother away, was now taking him home. [Nahlah] He adopted you. He decided to
change your last name. Yeah. And to take you on as a son,
but did he ever treat you like a son? No. How would you say he
treated you, in one word? Slave. A slave. [Nahlah] Ramiro, now forced to
start a new life with a man who was involved in
killing his entire family, even forced to call him dad. How did you manage to keep
living with him and not show that you knew what he had done? [Nahlah] A sleeping volcano? Yeah. [Nahlah] Inside that volcano,
there was also a grieving child who still desperately
wanted to find his parents, even if they were dead. Lining these corridors in a
central Guatemala City compound are hundreds of stories of
other lives interrupted by war. This is it here. FAFG, case 1,433,
grave 17, skeleton 15. And how many in this grave? This grave?
This is grave 17. 64 bodies. 64 in one grave? 64 men. [Nahlah] Fredy Peccerelli’s own
life was interrupted when his family escaped threats
during the conflict. Whenever I’m doubting what I do,
I come up here and it kind of clears everything
up really quickly. [Nahlah] Fredy is a forensic
anthropologist with X-ray and DNA technology. His team tries to identify
the remains that are exhumed, and tries to
understand how they died. If it was my family,
I would never stop. So I can’t stop looking
for anyone else’s family. [Nahlah] Fredy’s lab took
a DNA sample from Ramiro, but they couldn’t find a match. His parent’s remains
still lost to the past. They never found your families? [Nahlah] Have you found
a different way to talk to them then? Yeah. [Nahlah] How do you do it? [Nahlah] Coming up, Ramiro is
living a secret life in Canada. His mission, making
the murderers pay. [Nahlah] And we meet the
politician who says all the killers should walk free. There may be some impunity
but it’s better than war. [♪♪] [♪♪] [Nahlah] Guatemala City. Behind the countless faces that
wordlessly pass each other here every day, there are
countless silent survivors. But the ghosts of Guatemala,
speak of its violent past. Faces of the disappeared,
still demanding to be found. More than a decade after the
massacre that wiped out his entire village, Ramiro Cristales
was simply trying to survive. Still living shoulder to
shoulder with a family that wasn’t his, and a man involved
in murdering his real family. Violence still
underpinned their relationship. [Nahlah] Even so,
Ramiro patiently waited, hoping someone would
eventually find him. By 1999, someone
was on the case. Sara Romero too was
displaced by conflict. As a prosecutor, she was moved
especially by the fate of the children of Dos Erres. [Speaking Alternate Language] [Nahlah] She could do
nothing for those children, but could she rescue
the boy who survived? First, she had to find
him, and to do that, she had to get past the
man who abducted him. The soldier, Santos Lopez. So she knocked on his door
and told him she already knew everything about Dos Erres. And then the
unexpected happened. He confessed. [Speaking Alternate Language] [Nahlah] Then she asked
him, where was the boy Ramiro? 17 years after the
massacre, Ramiro was no longer a boy. It turns out, he is a
soldier in the army. Sara had not only been
looking for a survivor, but also a witness to one of the
military’s most gruesome crimes against its own people. And that put him
in grave danger. Incredibly, Lopez himself
delivered Ramiro to Sara. Out of self-interest,
or belated remorse? Hard to say. Still, Ramiro wasn’t
safe in Guatemala. So within days, he was en
route to less familiar terrain, where he didn’t even
speak the language. Canada had agreed
to shelter him. It was a painful adjustment. And in the background, still,
the lingering grief over losing his parents, Victor and Petrona. But from the safety of Canada,
Ramiro could finally do what he believes his life was
spared for him to do. It meant another
encounter with Lopez, and after all these years,
finally testifying against him. It meant reliving
his trauma yet again. On trial, Lopez
denied culpability. But by abducting Ramiro, he
had preserved the most damning evidence against him. They came face to face in court,
decades after he destroyed Ramiro’s life. To have a witness
survive such a horrific event, but to be of an age that
they can remember everything, especially because of the trauma
it induced in him is incredible. I mean, if there was ever
a case of living evidence, it is Ramiro. [Nahlah] In the end,
Ramiro helped convict Lopez of crimes
against humanity. Señor Santos… [Speaking Alternate Language] [Nahlah] Sentenced last
November to start serving more than 5,000
years in prison. 30 years for each person
killed in the massacre. This chapter of Ramiro’s story
could and should have ended here, but there may be
another torturous twist to his long road to justice. Santos Lopez may yet walk free. Hard to understand, but there is
growing support for an amnesty for people like Lopez. If a proposed law is passed, the
convicted killers of Dos Erres would be set free
within 24 hours. Objections from victims and
rights groups have stalled the bill at Congress, and heaped
criticism on the congressman who introduced it. But a final vote
could still come, giving amnesty to
those implicated in the gravest war crimes. There are people who have
dedicated their lives to finding out who was behind
massacres, and who’s missing, and all of that. If they continue their work,
what happens to them under the provisions of this? Most of them are doing it
out of a sense of vengeance. We want to do away with that. They say they’re
doing it for justice. Everyone does
everything for justice. That’s a sales point. [Nahlah] What would you
say to someone like this man, Ramiro Cristales? You ask them to forgive. [Nahlah] Fellow Canadians
passing him by may never know it, but his is the
story of a survivor who now just wants to
be left in peace. [♪♪]

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