General Eugenio Vides Casanova was a top military officer from El Salvador during the civil war that took place three decades ago, and- in spite of notorious human rights violations by his forces- he was valued by the United States as an ally for his battle against Marxist guerrillas at a time when there was extreme concern in this country regarding the spread of communism north from Central America. After serving six years as El Salvador’s defense minister, General Vides retired in 1989 and has since been living as a legal permanent resident in South Florida. Obama administration lawyers are expected to charge him in an immigration court in Orlando, Florida for his participation in torture when he commanded the Salvadoran armed forces and will seek to have him deported from the country. This case is being hailed by human rights advocates as the first time a special human rights office at the Department of Homeland Security has brought immigration charges against a top-ranking foreign military commander.
The current trouble for the general began in 1998 when he was indicted for his alleged role in an operation that resulted in four American churchwomen being murdered by Salvadoran National Guard troops. In 2000, while a Florida jury acquitted him of civil charges, a separate suit was filed accusing him and another military official of responsibility for torture. In 2002, they were both held liable and ordered to pay $54.6 million to the three torture victims, as reported the New York Times. Now, in the final stretch of the government-initiated immigration court case, one witness expected to testify is a Salvadoran physician who was captured by National Guard troops in 1980. In an earlier trial, he had testified that General Vides personally interrogated him in the course of a 24-day ordeal, during which he was suspended by his wrists and beaten, given electric shocks on his tongue and shot in the left arm. In defense of General Vides, a former ambassador is expected to give verbal testimony of his role as a defense minister that included working with U.S. officials to curb abuses made by his own forces. It appears that this role Gen. Vides held was the main reason for which he was awarded the Legion of Merit, a high military honor, by President Ronald Reagan shortly thereafter. The present immigration hearing will likely last a few weeks, and if convicted, the multiple immigration proceedings against the General will follow suit.