Clients: Carlos Mauricio

Carlos Mauricio was a professor at the University of El Salvador when he was detained in June 1983 and tortured for nearly two weeks at the National Police Headquarters. After coming to the United States, he obtained two Master’s degrees, in Molecular Genetics and Adult Education, from San Francisco State University, and a teaching credential. He subsequently taught biology at Balboa High School in San Francisco.  He is currently working through the Stop Impunity Coalition to raise awareness about human rights issues.

Carlos was born in the town of Ahuachapan, El Salvador and is 49 years old. At the age of 13, he moved to San Salvador with his family, where he soon found a construction job at the University of El Salvador. This enabled him to work during the day and continue his studies at night. After high school, he began to study agricultural engineering at the university, supporting himself by teaching in local high schools and working as an assistant professor at the university. He won a scholarship to study in Mexico, where he received his Masters degree at the University of Merida. He then returned to El Salvador to continue teaching.

In June 1983 he was teaching a class on Agricultural Sciences when individuals dressed in civilian clothing entered the classroom and asked him to move his car. Once he was on the street, he was forced into an unmarked car and beaten. He was then taken to the National Police headquarters, where he was detained for nearly two weeks. During that time, he was tortured and interrogated repeatedly. For more about the methods of torture, you can read the legal complaint in his case.

Upon being released, Carlos fled El Salvador for the United States. 

Carlos has suffered permanent physical and emotional injuries as a result of the abuse he underwent while detained. The physical wounds remaining from his detention include broken ribs, an injured eye and persistent pain in his shoulders, joints and chest. 

Carlos’ interest in bringing Generals Garcia and Vides Casanova to trial stemmed from his firm belief that seeking justice for what was done helps to heal the emotional wounds caused by torture.
Since the verdict in his case in July 2002, he has spoken extensively to the press in the United States and El Salvador and to numerous community groups and churches about the experience of confronting human rights abusers in a U.S. courtroom.

Carlos is dedicated to helping other survivors, especially those from El Salvador, tell their stories and deal with their own past trauma. To this end, he has begun work on a new organization, the Stop Impunity Coalition, that seeks to connect Salvadoran torture survivors to needed psycho-social and medical services and to disseminate the lessons he learned from his case.

Seeking justice

With help from CJA, Carlos and two other torture survivors sued two of the generals who were in charge of the Salvadoran security forces and who now live in retirement in West Palm Beach, Florida: José Guillermo Garcia, Minister of Defense from 1979-1983, and Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, the Director-General of the Salvadoran National Guard from 1979-1983 who then became Minister of Defense.

Our two clients, in addition to Carlos, are a doctor who was abducted, detained, and brutally tortured by the Salvadoran National Guard in late 1980 in the Guard’s National Headquarters; and a Church layworker who was abducted, detained, tortured and raped by National Guardsmen in late 1979.
On July 23, 2002, following a four-week trial, a 10-person jury determined that the two generals were liable for torture under the doctrine of “command responsibility”, and awarded our clients a total of $54.6 million ($14.6 million in compensatory and $40 million in punitive damages). In holding the generals liable, the jury concluded that:

(a) the plaintiffs were tortured by subordinates of the generals;
(b) the generals knew or reasonably should have known that their    subordinates were committing such acts; and
(c) they failed to take necessary and reasonable steps within their power to prevent or punish the acts.

In preparing this case, the legal team worked with the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (now Human Rights First) in New York, which had brought a similar case against the same two generals on behalf of four U.S. churchwomen who were tortured and murdered by the Salvadoran National Guard in 1980. In that case in November 2000, a jury rendered a verdict that the generals could not be held liable for the crimes, apparently on the ground that they did not have “effective control” over their subordinates. The plaintiffs appealed, urging that the jury instructions improperly placed the burden on them to prove that the generals had de facto control over their subordinates. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s jury instructions.

The instructions given to the jury in the Romagoza case followed the Circuit Court’s ruling, and defined “effective control” in greater detail than provided in the churchwomen’s case.

Carlos’s reasons for bringing the lawsuit

“I decided to participate in the case against the two generals for several reasons:
First, I am participating in order to seek justice, and to help put an end to the culture of impunity that exists in El Salvador. Second, I want to be the voice for people who were never able to speak out, for those who do not want, or are unable, to take their cases to court. Not only those who have been tortured and never want to talk about it, but also those who were killed during torture.

Third, I am looking for a psychological healing of the wounds that torture left on me. I need an explanation and that is why I need a day in court. I believe that General Vides Casanova had the power to stop his police from committing the atrocities that they committed, and that he is, therefore, responsible. I want to know why he did nothing to stop his police from torturing me and thousands of others.

Fourth, I am participating in this case in order to help send a message to military leaders around the world that, if they commit atrocities, they will not be able to visit or live in the U.S. with impunity. They will always have to fear that someone someday may recognize them and bring them to justice. I am involved in this case to try to deter people, especially military people in El Salvador and elsewhere, from committing atrocities in the future. Let me tell you, many military officers in Salvador dream of living in the United States after they retire. My case and other cases are sending a powerful message to them. Resolutions passed by the U.N. General Assembly and reports by human rights organizations are effective in publicizing what happened, but they do not send a strong message to military leaders, who think they are above the law. They may be above the law in their home countries, but these lawsuits tell them that they are not above the law in this country.

Whatever the outcome of my case, just bringing the lawsuit has been a victory. Ten years ago, no one would have dared to do that. The generals remain very powerful people in Salvador, and many refugees here, including me, have family back in Salvador who could be harmed by people who are violently opposed to holding the generals accountable.”