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Salvadoran Ex-General Faces Deportation

April 20, 2011

A Former Salvadoran General May Face
Deportation for Human Rights Abuses

Former Salvadoran general and one-time Defense Minister Eugenio Vides Casanova may face deportation from the U.S. on charges that he participated in torture during El Salvador’s brutal civil war, which cost at least 75,000 lives between 1980 and 1992. As reported in yesterday’s Latin Dispatch, if he is convicted in a Florida immigration court, Vides will be sent back to his homeland to face justice.
            This would mark a dramatic turnaround for the ex-General, and potentially for other former Latin American leaders and their military accomplices as well. At one time Vides was considered a U.S. ally; former President Ronald Reagan presented him with the Legion of Merit. The case may also mark a significant shift in U.S. policy: Vides is the first senior foreign military officer to be so charged by the recently-created (2009) Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center of the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
            The former general has been living in Florida since 1989. In 2000, along with José Guillermo García, he was acquitted of civil charges in the 1980 rape and murder of four American church women. However, in 2002, in a case brought by the Center for Justice and Accountability on behalf of three torture victims, both officers were found liable for damages of more than $50 million – a verdict that was upheld four years later. Vides was forced to turn over roughly $300,000 in assets. Carlos Mauricio, one of the plaintiffs in that trial, told the Refuge Media Project that winning the case against Vides and Garcia “was worth more than a thousand hours of therapy.” Interviewed by the BBC after the initial verdict, he said “My feelings are overwhelming…This has been a long, long struggle for justice.” (Carlos is one of the people interviewed for our film Refuge.) 
            Highlighting the shifts in U.S.policy, it’s expected that one former ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin G. Corr, will testify on Vides’ behalf, while another, Robert E. White, will be called to testify against him. White, who was ambassador at the time of the churchwomen’s murder, has long criticized the U.S.role in the civil war.
            The Guardian (UK) quotes Adam Isacson, of the Washington Office on Latin America, saying, “It is a scandal that general Vides and others tied to severe human rights abuses were given a pass to be here in the first place, and reversing his asylum sends a strong and timely message to El Salvador’s government and Latin America as a whole.”
            Though it’s encouraging that individual human rights abusers may now be facing justice, the U.S.policies that made some of those abuses possible have yet to be fully refuted. As Diego Handel, Vides’ lawyer, points out, “It is ironic that the winds have changed, but no one in the United States government has been called negatively to account for any of these cases.”
            Quoted in The New York Times, Michael Shifter of the group Inter-American Dialogue said that the action by ICE represents a new and unusual level of maturity in US foreign policy. “I hope it emboldens countries in the region, El Salvador among them but also Guatemala, Honduras, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil and elsewhere, to overturn amnesty laws and seek more of the truth about what happened in their countries, so that it may not be repeated.”
            In 2009, El Salvador elected Mauricio Funes, candidate of the FMLN party, heirs to the principle guerrilla group which fought against the military regime. Emily Achtenberg (my wife) was an international observer of that election, and wrote movingly about the experience in an article published on the website, Upside Down World. (Photos above, from top: ex-General Vides today; American churchwomen Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan; Carlos Mauricio; Vides in obviously happer times — for him)

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