Maybe Some Justice for the 4 Church Women?

At 1230pm on Wednesday, April 8th, 2015, former Salvadoran General Carlos Vides Casanova, walked onto the tarmac at the Comalapa International airport in El Salvador, a deported man – a man with an uncertain future. After 25 years in Florida, his deportation back to El Salvador was now a reality. Vides Casanova had been head of the National Guard of El Salvador from 1979 to 1983 and Minister of Defense from 1983 until 1989. Following the war, the Truth Commission found that Vides Casanova had “knowingly shielded subordinates from the consequences of the acts and promoted a culture of tolerance for human rights abuses”. Although many human rights activists decried his flight to the US at the end of the Salvadoran Civil War, the Bush Administration used a little known loophole that allowed the CIA to bring 100 collaborators to the USA without formal review.

But, why was he able to live safely in the USA for so long without having to face his Salvadoran accusers? The unfortunate truth is that many in the US were directly involved (at some level or knowledge) with the human rights abuses going on during the war. Just one example of the constant wall of misinformation put up during the Reagan Administration is when U.N. ambassador, Jeane Kirkpatrick, stated in 1980 after the 4 Churchwomen had been brutally kidnapped and murdered in El Salvador “I don’t think the government [of El Salvador] was responsible. The nuns were not just nuns; the nuns were political activists.” The Reagan Administration awarded Vides Casanova two Legion of Merit awards and he was invited to teach at the School of the Americas.

On March 11, 2015, the US Board of Immigration Appeals upheld the prior deportation order against him which he had been fighting. The basis of the decision came down to an interpretation of a new anti-terrorism law that says that while Vides Casanova may not have ordered any murders (unknown), he had command responsability. Human Rights Abuses took place under his command and there is no evidence that he did anything to seriously investigate or hold people accountable for those actions.

It was nearly impossible on Thursday (April 9th) to even find mention of his arrival in El Salvador among the various Salvadoran Newspapers. The right wing leaning newspapers carried headlines such as “FMLN’s support of Venezuela causes problems for US projects in El Salvador” or “Who are the victims of crime: Government without any emergency plans to combat the violence”. While another right wing newspaper did not carry any news on the front page of the website, they did include an article on Casanova that you could find using their search function.

Will there be justice for the 4 murdered Church women and all those who lost their lives under his leadership? The answer may be no. As a result of the Peace Accords and the creation of the Truth Commission, there was a general amnesty offered to all combatants (left and right). Following the war, it was generally believed that the most important thing was not retribution, but rather, a complete investigation and revealing of the TRUTH about what happened during the long and bloody Salvadoran Civil War. So, while the ex-general has been deported by the USA, no one is sure whether he will actually face any charges in El Salvador. Human Rights activists will certainly demand that the Attorney General bring formal charges.

The Truth Commission found that over 70,000 people were killed during the war, 25% of the country was displaced, and that the military and para-military forces were responsable for 85% of the human rights abuses (torture, murder). But, this is El Salvador and feelings run strongly on both sides. As a sign of the struggle that Human Rights Activists face in this case, the first comment online on one of the newspapers that did carry a related article stated: “And, so what about charging all of the ex-guerilla leaders who committed as much crime at that time?”.

For more information on the murder of the Church Women, click this link: