Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, a former general accused of torture and murder during the Salvadoran civil war, has appealed deportation from the U.S. on the claim that the Salvadoran government was backed by the U.S. at the time. The high-ranking war general served as El Salvador’s defense minister from 1983-1989 and has been involved in several lawsuits for his actions and leadership during this time. Vides Casanova’s lawyer, Diego Handel, claimed that it was unfair to deport the 76-year-old when U.S. officials have not been punished for their role in the Salvadoran civil war of the 1980s. He claimed that the U.S. government actively participated in the bloody conflict, supporting El Salvador’s right winged crusade against leftist guerrillas. Over the 12 year war, approximately 75,000 Salvadorans were killed and 500,000 displaced.
After his retirement as defense minister, the general first emigrated to Florida in 1989 where he was granted permanent residency upon receiving praise from U.S. officials. After the civil war ended in 1992, Vides Casanova faced lawsuits from numerous victims of the violence. The flow of lawsuits over the past decade has caused the rise of deportation proceedings. In 2012, an immigration judge found him responsible for six different cases of murder and torture as well as the killing of civilians carried out by the Salvadoran Armed Forces and National Guard.
Judge James Grim’s decision acted under a 2004 law that intended to prevent human rights violators from living in the United States. His decision was the first to allow immigration prosecutors to deport a foreign military commander under the 2004 law. This is also the first case where the Department of Homeland Security has applied the law to such a high-ranking military official. If the general’s appeal is rejected, he may take his case to federal court. The case serves as an important example for immigration cases related to high-ranking human rights violators residing in the U.S.
If deported, Vides Casanova may face further investigation. Currently, a 1993 amnesty law grants him immunity, but his native country has recently considered overturning this law. The Salvadoran Supreme Court faces internal pressure to reopen investigations of war crimes. Former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, Robert White, rejected Vides Casanova’s claim that he was not responsible for the violence, but also criticized the U.S.’s role in the war. The U.S. spent at least $7 billion in support for El Salvador’s government at the time. In an interview White stated, “It would be useful for us to examine our own record because it keeps coming back to haunt us.” White’s comment suggests that the U.S. should not only work to prevent human rights violators from residing within its borders but also examine its own role in these past violations.