US judge paves way for deportation of notorious Salvadoran general
Commander of El Salvador's national guard stands accused of numerous human rights violations during the country's civil war
by Ryan Devereaux in New York
The Guardian (U.K.)
A Florida judge has paved the way for the deportation of a former top Salvadoran general accused of overseeing widespread torture and murder, including the notorious killing of several Americans during the country's civil war.
The decision marks the first time a US court has determined a senior foreign military official could be deported on human rights violations since the passage of a 2004 law aimed at barring such violators from seeking refuge in the United States.
Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova served as El Savador's defense minister from 1983 to 1989. Prior to occupying the nation's top military position, Vides was the commander of El Salvador's infamous national guard. While serving in that post in 1980, the national guard murdered four American chruchwomen working in the country at the time, including Sister Dorothy Kazel, Sister Maura Clarke, Sister Ita Ford and Jean Donovan, a lay missionary.
Orlando immigration judge James Grim has found, for the first time after years of allegations, that Vides assisted in those killings. Five Salvadoran national guard soldiers were convicted in the murders and served lengthy prison sentences. Grim also determined that Vides participated in the torture of two Salvadoran citizens, Juan Romagoza and Daniel Alvarado, who testified against him in hearings last spring.
Vides has contested the charges, arguing that he did not have responsibility or knowledge of the systematic torture and murder carried out by men under his command. While Judge Grim ruled that Vides can be deported on the human rights charges, the former commander's case still involves numerous steps before the deportation takes place.
"It's a really big deal from a first step perspective," said Carolyn Patty Blum, a senior legal adviser with the Center for Justice and Accountability, a non-profit that has represented several torture victims in the Vides case.
During Vides' tenure as head of the national guard and defense minister, Blum points out, "You're talking about years when ten, twelve thousand people would be assassinated per year. Countless others would be tortured."
Blum says there are "hundreds" of human rights abusers currently living in the United States. She hopes Judge Grim's decision "makes them feel concerned for their ability to live in comfort in the US".
"I hope it emboldens the department of homeland security to see that if they put on a solid case, put evidence before a judge, a judge will respond," Blum added.
The Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center brought the case against Vides. Immigration Customs and Enforcement created the unit in 2003 in order to prevent human rights violators from entering the US and deporting those who are already within the nation's borders.
During the 1980s, El Salvador's military dictatorship – bolstered by extensive US financial support and training – carried out a campaign of massacres and terror in an effort to stamp out a left-wing revolutionary movement. The conflict left more than 70,000 people dead, the overwhelming majority killed by the government. More than a quarter of the nation's population was displaced by the fighting.