The Miami Herald
October 24, 2000

Jury reads resignation letters

Ex-generals on trial in deaths


 In the spring of 1980, the nascent military/civilian junta that had hoped to start
 leveling the inequities of life between El Salvador's poor and its all-powerful ruling
 class disintegrated, and civilian cabinet officers resigned en masse because they
 realized reform was hopeless.

 Their resignation letters provided the strongest refutation yet -- in the second
 week of a federal civil trial in West Palm Beach -- that two former top Salvadoran
 generals, José Guillermo Garcia and Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, did not
 know how the forces under their command were operating.

 Jorge Alberto Villacorta, undersecretary of agriculture, told other members of the
 junta, which included Garcia and Casanova, that he considered it ``useless to
 continue in a government not only incapable of putting an end to violence, but . . .
 is generating political violence through repression.''

 He submitted his letter nine months before National Guardsmen raped and shot
 four American churchwomen on Dec. 2. Their families are suing the generals
 under a U.S. law that permits torture victims or their survivors to seek damages
 from high-command officers if they ordered or tolerated subordinates' brutality.

 Villacorta's letter was one of many similar documents that a jury read Monday, as
 lawyers for the plaintiffs wrapped their case with testimony by Patricia Darien,
 former Carter administration assistant secretary of state for human rights.

 Darien said she was ``very angry'' that anti-Communist hard-liners in the U.S.
 government convinced Carter to reinstate suspended military aid to El Salvador
 after security forces had killed the churchwomen and five opposition leaders in the
 waning days of Carter's presidency.

 ``He got conned,'' she said. ``They persuaded him that in the interval [between the
 Carter and Reagan administrations], the government of El Salvador would fall.''

 Darien said it would have been impossible for mid-level troops to ``spontaneously''
 commit atrocities, given the Salvadoran military's rigid structure.

 ``Freelance operations could not have happened, within my realm of thinking.''

 Plaintiffs' attorney Bob Kerrigan asked Darien: ``Was Gen. Garcia the minister of

 ``Yes,'' said Darien.

 In tones that ranged from wistful to testy -- during cross-examination by Miami's
 Kurt Klaus Jr., who represents the generals -- Darien, 71, told the jury that during
 a trip to El Salvador in 1983, she met women telling such horror stories about
 treatment by security forces that they have never left her mind.