Thirty years ago, during the civil war in El Salvador, Gen. Eugenio Vides Casanova was the top military officer in the nation. He was once closely allied with the U.S., but he has since been accused of a number of human rights violations. Now, in U.S. immigration court this week, the Obama administration will charge that Vides took part in torture when he was commander of the Salvadoran armed forces. They seek to have him deported.
Since retiring honorably in 1989, General Vides has lived as a permanent legal resident South Florida, so to be charged now is a reversal of the United States’ position. He has denied any torture, and the former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin G. Corr, is among the witnesses he plans to call on his behalf.
The U.S. valued General Vides for the way he ruthlessly dealt with Marxist guerrillas during El Salvador’s civil war, and was even awarded the military honor of the Legion of Merit by President Reagan. However, trouble for Vides started in 1998, when he was contacted by a lawyer for the families of four American churchwomen killed 18 years earlier by Salvadoran National Guard troops when General Vides was in command.
In 2000, General Vides and General García, another former defense minister, were acquitted by a Florida jury of civil charges in the killing of the churchwomen. In spite of that acquittal, the justice center filed a suit claiming they were responsible for torture during the civil war.
Then in 2002, another Florida jury found the men liable and ordered them to pay $54.6 million to three torture victims. That verdict was later upheld in an appeals court in 2006.
Illinois Senator Richard Durbin (D) and Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn (R) pressed the Department of Homeland Security to deport both generals, and in 200, immigration charged were brought against General Vides.
The hearing is expected to last at least a week. General García is having his own immigration proceedings.
Vides’ lawyer points out that though the generals are being accused of being responsible for actions that occurred during the war, no one in the U.S. government is being accused of the same, despite their involvement.
“All these events were taking place when there was extreme concern in this country regarding the spread of communism north from Central America,” said Mr. Handel, General Vides’ lawyer. “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.”