Jury reads resignation letters
Ex-generals on trial in deaths
BY ELINOR J. BRECHER
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
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
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.