PROVIDENCE — A Providence man accused of leading a paramilitary unit in Guatemala that tortured and murdered dozens of indigenous Mayans in the 1980s was deported Wednesday to face prosecution.
Juan Alecio Samayoa Cabrera, 69, had fled Guatemala and entered the United States illegally in 1992, eventually settling in Providence and applying for asylum.
Despite being rejected and ordered deported years ago, Samayoa fought to remain — arguing that he would face torture, not justice, in his native country.
Samayoa had claimed that he and his wife were victims of guerrilla fighters because of his political views, according to court records. In 2011, Samayoa received a temporary U visa, which is meant for victims of crimes who assist government officials in investigations or prosecutions.
When that visa expired in 2017, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Samayoa at his home in Providence’s Silver Lake neighborhood, where Samayoa and his wife of nearly 50 years had been quietly living.
To the new friends he’d made in Rhode Island, Samayoa was a humble family man who worked as a gardener and fathered eight children with his wife.
To the investigators in Guatemala, the former cattle businessman from Chinique had led a unit of about 500 people that raided the villages of indigenous Mayans during the country’s bloody civil war.
Some survivors also settled in Providence and New Bedford, and recognized Samayoa as the man who’d led patrols that committed atrocities in their villages.
After his arrest, Samayoa appeared in US Immigration Court in Boston early last year and admitted knowing the man alleged to be his coconspirator.
Candido Noriega had died in 2017, after serving some of a 50-year sentence for committing more than 100 war crimes.
Noriega and Samayoa were accused by the Supreme Court of Justice of a litany of atrocities: torture, kidnap, and rape of adults and children; burning people; burying people alive; starving people; robbing people; and causing people to “disappear.”
Samayoa was afraid to go back. He had testified and argued in court documents that his notoriety in Guatemala would make him a target in prison, and that he would face torture.
The immigration judge rejected his argument in early 2018.
Last month, so did the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
Exactly two years after Samayoa was arrested at his home on Webster Avenue, the court issued a decision denying part of Samayoa’s appeal and dismissing the rest.
Samayoa’s argument that he, in particular, was likely to be tortured in prison “is not persuasive,” the court said.
“Samayoa does point to documentary evidence that shows that he is alleged to have committed crimes in Guatemala, that the government has issued warrants for his arrest, and that he would be targeted for prosecution in that country if he were removed there,” the court said.
“But, although this evidence is specific to Samayoa, it concerns only his likelihood of being imprisoned in Guatemala and not his likelihood of being singled out once imprisoned there for especially harsh treatment in comparison to other inmates in that country.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Homeland Security turned Samayoa over to authorities in Guatemala.
A photo showed him handcuffed, and his weathered face serious, as the government prepared to return him to his native country for the first time in 27 years.