CJA Reporting from Vides Casanova Removal Hearing

On April 18, 2011, CJA lawyers, Almudena Bernabeu and Carolyn Patty Blum, will attend an Orlando courtroom where two CJA clients, Dr. Juan Romagoza and Daniel Alvarado, will testify in a removal proceeding against former Salvadoran General and Minister of Defense, Eugenio Vides Casanova.  General Vides Casanova has been charged with assisting or otherwise participating in the commission of acts of torture in El Salvador from 1979 to 1989 in violation of §237(a)(4)(D) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

It was eleven years ago that CJA along with pro bono co-counsel from Morrison & Foerster and James K. Green brought a human rights case against General García and General Vides Casanova on behalf of our courageous clients Neris Gonzalez, Carlos Mauricio and Dr. Juan Romagoza.   After a jury trial, the Generals were ordered to pay $54.6 million to our clients for their role in their torture and other human rights abuses.  The verdict was upheld by the Eleventh Circuit in 2006.  

During the removal hearing, Juan Romagoza will tell about the torture he suffered in the National Guard Headquarters during Vides tenure as its Director.  Daniel Alvarado, one of our client’s in the lawsuit against former Vice Minister of Defense Nicolas Carranza, will testify about his torture while Vides was Minister of Defense. The government will also call Ambassador Robert White and Stanford University political scientist Terry Karl, both of whom testified in all four CJA’s Salvadoran cases.

Since the 2002 trial victory, CJA has been pushing the U.S. government to initiate a deportation case against the two generals, both lawful permanent residents of the U.S.  Over the years we continued to apply pressure.  In 2007, Juan Romagoza and CJA Executive Director Pamela Merchant testified before the then newly created Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law about the fact that Generals Garcia and Vides Casanova continued to enjoy safe haven in Florida.  Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Coburn (R-OK) sent a series of letters to the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security asking why Generals Vides Casanova and Garcia continued to live freely in the U.S. Click here to read the letters.

The removal proceeding’s importance cannot be overstated.  This is the first time that DHS has used the new statutory provisions on torture against senior level commanders.  The immigration judge’s decision will hinge on important issues of law and fact.  It  can be anticipated that  whatever the outcome, the case will be appealed to higher levels and set crucial precedent to be used in future cases against senior commanders for their role in allowing human rights abuses to be committed.   

What is most crucial, from CJA’s and our client’s perspectives, is that the removal of Vides Casanova from the U.S. would represent the successful use of one more tool in the accountability arena and brings us one step closer towards justice for Salvadorians.  This is why CJA has expended significant resources for legal reform and advocacy with the U.S. government, and support for our clients who are in Florida to testify.