Friday, February 24, 2012

US Judge: El Salvador's Ex-Defense Minister Can Be Deported

A Florida immigration judge has ruled that there are sufficient grounds to begin deportation proceedings against General Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, a defense minister of El Salvador during the country’s bloody civil war. Although the ruling was not published, lawyers familiar with the case told the New York Times that Vides took part in the abduction, rape and murder of four American churchwomen when he was leader of the National Guard in 1980.

This is not only the first time that Vides has been held accountable for these crimes in a court of law, but also the first time that United States immigration prosecutors have held that a top foreign military commander can be deported because of human rights violations. Although the Department of Homeland Security’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit  has deported over 400 human rights abusers since its creation in 2003, Vides is the highest ranking military official to ever face deportation.

These prosecutions are the result of provisions in the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA), which are intended to human rights violators from entering or residing in the US. As the Center for Justice and Accountability’s Carolyn Patty Blum told the Times, the case against Vides is “highly significant,” as it is “the first case where the Department of Homeland Security has taken this relatively new law and applied it to the highest military commander of their country to seek their removal.”

But while the ruling is important to the future of human rights organizations seeking to deport high-level officials, there is still no guarantee that Vildes will have to leave the country any time soon. As Reuters notes, deportation proceedings could take several more months if he decides to appeal.

News Briefs

·         After last Sunday’s deadly prison riot in Monterrey, the Mexican government has announced that it will build eight new federal prisons this year in an effort to ease overcrowding in the country’s prison system. Considering that pre-trial detention is one of the main causes of the overcrowding, however, this measure is only likely to be a temporary fix.

·         The Houston Chronicle takes a look at how the prison riot has affected the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) politically.

·         The BBC highlights the state of American undocumented immigrants living and working in Mexico. Not surprisingly, these “illegals” face a far easier time in Mexico than their Mexican and Central American counterparts do in the US.

·         As Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez leaves for Cuba today to seek medical treatment for a growth which is probably malignant, the Associated Press questions whether he is risking his life by not seeking treatment in the US, Europe or (more realistically) Brazil, which allegedly have better quality cancer care facilities. Chavez himself showed no such doubt during a live broadcast on state television yesterday, during which he pounded the table in front of him and roared “I will live! I will live!

·         Senator Jim Leahy (D-VT) has told the AP that he met with Cuban President Raul Castro yesterday in a visit to the island yesterday, and also spoke with imprisoned US contractor Alan Gross. Although Leay said that efforts to free Gross “still have a long way to go,” he claimed that the meeting with Castro was cordial. The Cuban leader mentioned the case of five Cuban intelligence agents imprisoned in the US, although he did not explicitly suggest swapping Gross for them.

·         In the latest controversy in Ecuador President Rafael Correa’s $42 million libel case against El Universo, The Miami Herald reports that a judge who reviewed the case has fled the country and is claiming that government lawyers tried to bribe her. According to Judge Monica Encalada, lawyers tied to the Correa administration promised her “$3,000 a month and steady work if she would rule against the newspaper.”

·         After a train crash in Argentina killed 50 and injured more than 700 on Wednesday, the country’s auditor general has blamed the disaster on corruption and a cozy relationship between government regulators and the railway company involved. The Wall Street Journal reports that both allies and opponents of the Fernandez administration alike are calling on the president to revoke the company’s operating license.

·         This week’s issue of The Economist accuses the Argentine government of having doctored its inflation figures since 2007.  As a result, the London-based magazine announced it is removing the government’s statistics from its economic indicators page.

·         In the wake of the recent capture of Shining Path leader “Comrade Artemio,” the Peruvian government is stepping up its operations in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE) region, a stronghold of the other branch of the guerrilla group.

·         Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega has warned that, due to a forecasted slowdown in economic growth worldwide, the global "currency war" to keep countries’ exchange rates competitive is likely to intensify, the Wall Street Journal reports. However, Mantega assured Brazilians that the country is “well prepared” and has "a large arsenal of instruments" at its disposal prevent depreciation of the country’s currency.

·         The Americas Quarterly blog profiles an interesting study by Edward Telles and Liza Steel on the intersection of race and social class in the region. According to the study, “the most pronounced pigmentocracies are Guatemala and Bolivia, which seem to reflect the low status of their especially large Indigenous populations.” Interestingly, the researchers found that darker skin color had little to no influence on educational attainment in Panama, Honduras and Costa Rica. The full study, entitled “Pigmentocracy in the Americas: How is Educational Attainment Related to Skin Color?” can be accesed via the Latin American Public Opinion Project’s website.