Jose Guillermo Garcia, a former Salvadoran defense minister accused of tolerating human rights violations by soldiers under his command more than 30 years ago, was deported to his home country Friday after losing appeals against the original expulsion order issued by a Miami immigration judge.
The deportation was announced late Friday in a statement issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It said the retired Salvadoran army general, 82, had been sent to El Salvador on an ICE air operations charter aircraft and turned over to authorities in the Central American country.
The deportation marks the final chapter in an extraordinary effort by U.S. immigration authorities to expel two of the main suspects accused of harsh repression and widespread violation of human rights during the civil war in El Salvador: Garcia and another former defense minister and former Salvadoran National Guard chief, Eugenio Vides Casanova, who was deported to San Salvador in April 2015.
Both deportations also officially marked a change in American foreign policy toward El Salvador — where in the days of the Cold War and the administration of President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, Garcia and Vides Casanova were considered close allies in the fight against leftist Cuban-backed guerrillas.
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Garcia, who served as defense minister between 1979 and 1983, was escorted onto the deportation flight by personnel of ICE’s enforcement and removal operations. The ICE statement said García was deported “for his role in the commission of human rights violations during the civil war in El Salvador.”
The statement also said that the 1980-1992 war had resulted in the deaths of more than 70,000 civilians.
Garcia, who lived in Broward County, was arrested Dec. 17 in anticipation of his deportation, ICE said.
The deportation marks the final chapter in an extraordinary effort by U.S. immigration authorities to expel two of the main suspects accused of harsh repression and widespread violation of human rights during the civil war in El Salvador.
Though Garcia deportation had been upheld, it still came as a surprise because his lawyer, Alina Cruz, had said last month that her client planned to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta. As a result, she suggested that the removed would be delayed while the appeals court weighed its decision.
Cruz could not be reached for comment on Friday and the ICE statement made no reference to a federal court appeal.
The statement only alluded to a decision Dec. 8 by the Board of Immigration Appeals in Washington, which had rejected Garcia’s appeal against the original deportation order issued in February 2014 by the Miami immigration judge.
That judge ruled that Garcia could be returned to El Salvador for “assisting or participating in the commission of numerous acts of torture and extrajudicial killings in El Salvador while he was in command,” the ICE statement said.