Ex-Salvadoran generals face Florida trial for nuns' deaths
WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (AP) -- Two decades after five soldiers were
convicted of abducting, raping and killing three American nuns and a social
worker in El Salvador, the missionaries' families still want others to pay.
For years, the families of social worker Jean Donovan and sisters Ita Ford,
Maura Clarke and Dorothy Kazel have pressed Salvadoran and U.S. officials to
probe deeper into the killings, sure that high-ranking officials of the Salvadoran
National Guard knew of the murders.
Now, they have a chance to prove they are right.
On Tuesday, the families' wrongful death lawsuit against El Salvador's
former defense minister, Jose
Guillermo Garcia, and Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, former director-general of the
Salvadoran National Guard, goes to trial in federal court in West Palm Beach.
For the first time, family members will see face-to-face the two men they
ultimately responsible for the deaths.
"These two generals, at the time of the murders,
controlled the Salvadoran military, which was a
very top down organization," said Bill Ford, a New
York City lawyer and Ita Ford's brother. "I've been
to El Salvador eight or nine times and no one
believes five low-ranking guardsmen would take it
upon themselves to kill four North American
church women. There were clearly higher orders."
Garcia denies ordering the slayings, saying it has
already been established that the five soldiers were
responsible. He now lives in Plantation, a Fort
Efforts to reach Casanova, who lives near Daytona
Beach, were unsuccessful. A lawyer for both men, Kurt R. Klaus Jr. of Coral
Gables, did not return calls to his office.
The families believe the killings were part of a campaign to silence sympathizers
of El Salvador's leftist guerrillas. The targets included church members critical of
the military-led government and its actions during the 12-year civil war that
began in 1979.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, was filed in 1999 after the
families learned the two former generals had entered this country 10 years
"When we discovered they were in Florida that gave us jurisdiction," said
Varenik of the Lawyers Committee For Human Rights, a New York City
nonprofit group that has represented the families for 20 years. "It also added
insult to injury in that the men who had been linked through the years to so many
human rights injuries were in the United States."
The victims -- Ford, 40, and Clarke, 51, both of New York, and Kazel, 42,
Donavan, 32, both of Cleveland -- worked at a Catholic refugee center in the
Central American country.
They were detained by soldiers at a roadblock on December 2, 1980, and
next day their bullet-riddled bodies were discovered along a dirt road.
The five members of the Salvadoran National Guard were convicted in 1984
sentenced to 30 years in prison. In 1998, four of them said they had been acting
In order to win, the families must show that the generals had knowledge
policy or pattern of abuse by soldiers and didn't stop the violence, Varenik said.
The case isn't just about four American women, but about the "tens of thousands
of Salvadoran victims murdered by the men the defendants' commanded,"
"As you can imagine, generals don't often leave fingerprints on triggers.
Somebody several levels below them does," Varenik said.
Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.