The Miami Herald
November 1, 2000

Salvadoran generals' human rights trial reaches closing arguments


 With one of their number festively attired in a Halloween-motif sweater, a
 10-member Palm Beach County federal jury Tuesday heard the last word from the
 last witness in the ground-breaking human rights case against two former
 Salvadoran generals.

 Codefendant Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, on redirect examination by his
 lawyer, Kurt R. Klaus Jr., had been pursuing a convoluted analogy about El
 Salvador's evolving democracy.

 ``Many changes have taken place,'' said Vides, 67, the National Guard chief who
 succeeded co-defendant José Guillermo García as defense minister in 1983.
 ``This is like giving birth. The baby is not born in one or two months. It is long and
 painful to the one giving birth, and when it's over, it's a healthy baby. Then . . .
 when you think you have resolved all the problems by the time he is 16, the
 teenage problems begin.''

 U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley held up his hand like a stop sign -- as he
 often has, when one of the generals heads off on a tangent -- and declared he had
 heard enough.

 It was 12:40 p.m. The jury that began viewing recently declassified government
 documents Oct. 10 will hear closing arguments and a lengthy, unusual jury
 instruction today.

 Then, they'll have to decide whether the families of Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford, 40,
 and Maura Clarke, 49; Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, 40, and lay missionary
 Jean Donovan, 27 -- whom National Guardsmen rape and shot on Dec. 2, 1980 --
 have proved the generals' complicity in the deaths.

 They're basing their civil suit on the 1992 federal Torture Victim Protection Act.

 García, 67, of Plantation, won political asylum on Aug. 6, 1990. The Immigration
 and Naturalization Service concluded, after consulting with the State
 Department's Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs bureau, that García -- called
 García-Merino in some INS documents -- had ``a well-founded fear of persecution''
 in El Salvador.

 INS also granted García's wife and son asylum (four other children already had

 Vides, 62, of Palm Coast, near Daytona, arrived about a year earlier, and remains
 a resident alien with a green card.

 After he dismissed the jury, Hurley read several questions that jurors wanted
 answered: Were the generals given written inquiries from U.S. officials about the
 murders (they contend no U.S. investigators ever questioned them)?

 Was there, in fact, a travel advisory in effect when the churchwomen went to El
 Salvador as missionaries in the 1970s and 1980?

 And those Legion of Merit awards given the generals by U.S. Defense Department
 brass in the mid-1980s: What was their significance?

 A juror wanted to know whether there would be any justification for them if State
 Department officials really believed the generals were covering up the murders, as
 the families claim they did.