Salvadoran War Criminals Face Extradition to Spain and Deportation from US

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García confronts protesters in El Salvador - photo: Fred Ramos

On Friday, January 8th, the United States deported General José Guillermo García to El Salvador, where he had served as Minister of Defense at the onset of the country’s bloody 12-year civil war (1980-1992). García was met at the airport in El Salvador with shouts of “Murderer! Torturer!” from human rights advocates, survivors of atrocities committed under his tenure and relatives of victims. The General joins a growing list of former military officials facing renewed legal challenges for grave human rights violations during the armed conflict.

“Where are the disappeared?” cried impassioned protesters, to which García chillingly retorted, “Go look for them!” As Minister of Defense, García presided over some of the most egregious crimes of the armed conflict, including the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the rapes and murders of four US churchwomen and the infamous El Mozote massacre. Testimony from survivors of torture and other human rights violations was key in his apprehension and eventual deportation from Miami, Florida, where he had enjoyed political asylum for years. “Long live El Salvador!” shouted the 82-year-old García as he pushed through the crowd on Friday.

García is the second former Salvadoran military leader to be deported from the US in the last year for human rights violations; after years of asylum in Miami, former General Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova was also found guilty of torture and murder and deported to El Salvador. Vides Casanova and García’s verdicts followed a similar deportation order against former Colonel Inocente Montano, himself implicated in the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter at the Central American University (UCA).

In Montano’s case, however, the Department of Justice is seeking extradition to Spain, where he and 16 other former Salvadoran military officers face charges under the country’s unique universal jurisdiction mandate for the Jesuit murders. The Spanish judge presiding over the case originally issued warrants for their arrest in 2011, but the Salvadoran Supreme Court ruled against their detention and extradition. Subsequent Supreme Court decisions, however, appear to allow the captures to proceed, prompting the judge to re-issue 17 Interpol arrest warrants early this month. The Salvadoran government has expressed its willingness to cooperate, but requested clarification from the Court regarding the contradictory rulings. Meanwhile, the former military leaders have called on the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) opposition party to defend them, saying they were following orders from the ARENA administration that governed the country at the time of the murders.

As the case moves forward in Spain, human rights defenders are calling on the newly-elected Salvadoran Attorney General to bring domestic charges against other war criminals, including García and Vides Casanova.  “For someone who committed genocide to arrive and not be prosecuted is an insult to the population, to the victims and to the administration of justice itself,” said Ovidio Mauricio of the Tutela Legal human rights legal clinic to reporters on Friday, adding, “García should be tried as a human rights violator. The new Attorney General should open the proceedings, since he has said that he will represent the people.” 

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