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Deportation of former Salvadoran general accused of human rights' abuses delayed

Former defense minister of El Salvador, Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, leaves federal court in Palm Beach, Fla.

Former defense minister of El Salvador, Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, leaves federal court in Palm Beach, Fla.

After a lengthy court battle, the former defense minister of El Salvador, accused of numerous human rights’ abuses while he was a military commander during the country’s bloody civil war in the 1980s, will finally be deported from the U.S. to his home nation.

Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, who is one of a number of former Salvadoran officials from that era living in the U.S. that have been targeted for deportation for human rights’ abuses, said that he is ready to leave the country and would even pay for his own flight back to El Salvador on a commercial plane. The problem is that the immigration authorities who had pressed for deportation now say that the Vides cannot "self-deport" and instead his removal to Central America will be delayed by at least a week.

Some observers say that Vides’ move to voluntarily leave the country and not allow U.S. authorities to escort him to El Salvador is a way for the former high-ranking general to save face in the midst of what must be viewed as a humiliating deportation process.

"It’s far less humiliating for a person to go back on his own than to go back as a formal deportee of the U.S. government," Cynthia Arnson, the director of the Latin American program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, told Fox News Latino. "Once he’s been ordered to be deported, however, it would be strange if someone was allowed to go back on his own."

Vides’ lawyer, Diego Handel of Florida, did not respond to phone calls from Fox News Latino seeking comment. But he told The New York Times that Vides, who is 77-years old, was suffering from a variety of health issues and that the former general has no criminal record in the United States or in El Salvador. His case has been carried out under civil proceedings.

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"If the government is serious about shipping him out, then ship him out," Handel told the New York Times. "To hold him at this point shows a political motivation…It is an exercise of raw power."

Jennifer Elzea, a spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told the Times that the agency did not discuss deportations, but added that Vides would not be released by ICE and that agency was ready to carry out the removal of the general.

Experts said that Vides missed his chance to self-deport during the court proceedings and that one reason the general was not deported this week was out of respect for their Salvadoran counterparts, who did not want him returned during the country’s Holy Week celebrations.

"General Vides had the opportunity to offer to pay his own way home earlier, but he did not take it, perhaps thinking that he might win his appeal," Terry Lynn Karl, a professor of comparative politics at Stanford University and a human rights' expert told FNL. "But now it is too late, and he is locked in a deportation center."

The court's decision to deport Vides has been hailed as significant human rights precedent. It was published in early March by the Board of Immigration Appeals and found that Vides had a direct role in the abuse and killing of civilians because of his "command responsibility" as the top military officer.

As El Salvador's defense minister from 1983 to 1989, he was directly accused in the torture of Salvadoran citizens, the 1980 killings of four American churchwomen and the 1981 killings of two Americans and a Salvadoran land reformer. Two of those who were tortured, Juan Romagoza and Daniel Alvarado, have also sued Vides Casanova for damages in U.S. courts.

"This is not a case in which isolated or random human rights abuses took place at the hands of rogue subordinates," the judges wrote. General Vides "affirmatively and knowingly shielded subordinates from the consequences of their acts and promoted a culture of tolerance for human rights abuses."

There are other former Salvadoran officials from that era living in the U.S. who could be targeted for deportation for similar abuses, said Center for Justice & Accountability attorney Carolyn Patty Blum.

"The decision represents the successful use of one more weapon in the accountability arsenal," Blum said. "We hope the (Homeland Security Department) will continue to pursue vigorously other Salvadoran military commanders residing in the U.S."

Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.

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