Road to Freedom

April 20-26, 2006
Road to Freedom
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) submitted
Torture Survivor Carlos Mauricio to Appear in Binghamton

BINGHAMTON — Since young adulthood, Carlos Mauricio’s life has been a struggle with his own history. In 1983, Mauricio, then a professor of biology at the University of El Salvador, was kidnapped by one of the infamous death squads. He was detained and tortured for two weeks at the National Police Headquarters.

“I thought that my death was in a matter of hours,” he said. “I was kidnapped from my classroom, a sacred place for me. My life was turned upside down because I am a survivor from a period in which very few survived. That fact brought a lot of questions to my life. Why am I a survivor? How about the painful memories of telling my experience? Should I keep silent?”

But within the last year, Mauricio’s struggle has been marked by triumphs. Most recently, at the end of March, the governments of Argentina and Uruguay determined that they would send no more agents to the Western Hemisphere Institute for National Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the School of the Americas (SOA). The decision was made after officials from those countries met with School of the Americas Watch activists Lisa Sullivan, a church worker; Father Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest; and Carlos Mauricio, a torture survivor.

In 2002, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Mauricio and fellow torture survivors Juan Romagoza and Neris Gonzalez, who sued former El Salvadoran Ministers of Defense Generals Jose Guillermo Garcia and Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova for $54.6 million in damages. Previously, the case had been dismissed. Both generals were trained at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., and both received U.S. Legion of Merit Awards from the U.S. State Department before retiring to South Florida.

In 2005, however, a federal appeals court reversed the ruling, noting that the victims’ claims were beyond the scope of the 10-year statute-of-limitations rule. Finally, a few days after the new year, the original verdict was upheld and the plaintiffs were awarded $54.6 million. Mauricio noted that this case was the first in which guilt for atrocities committed during the civil war in El Salvador had been assigned to military personnel.

“It is the first time that two former general were found responsible for kidnapping and torture. It was the first time that two generals were forced to listen to the atrocities that they planned and carried out to kill the Salvadoran people; but more important is that my case has been the basis for many human rights violation cases that came after us,” Mauricio said. “We are the landmark case for many other cases.”

He added that perhaps now a tribunal can be set up in El Salvador itself where the vast majority of those responsible for human rights abuses during the civil war have gone unpunished. Mauricio was born in Ahuachapan, El Salvador, in 1952. Orphaned at 11, he worked his way through high school and college before earning a scholarship to study in Mexico. He returned with a master’s degree and began teaching at the university.

In 1983, he was taken out of his classroom by agents in plain clothes and beaten severely before being taken to headquarters. After two weeks of brutal beatings, Mauricio was finally released after his father, a retired military officer, and the university had lobbied for him. Shortly thereafter, he fled to the U.S. where he worked as a dishwasher before finally learning English and obtaining his teaching certificate.

During 12 years of civil war between the El Salvadoran army, along with the paramilitary death squads, and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), an estimated 75,000 people died. Mauricio will be spending the day in Binghamton Friday, April 21 at the invitation of the St. James Peace and Justice Committee and the School of the Americas Watch of the Southern Tier.

His visit will begin with a breakfast at St. James Church, Main Street, Johnson City, at 7:15 a.m. Around 9 a.m., Mauricio will participate in a taping of “Encounter,” a weekly television program sponsored by the Broome County Council of Churches. Rev. Dr. Arthur Suggs of the Union Presbyterian Church in Endicott hosts the program. Later, at Binghamton University, he will participate in a panel entitled “American Torture in the Modern Age.” Finally, two other members of the SOA Watch group will join Mauricio and meet supporters at the Lost Dog Cafe, Water Street, Binghamton. Mauricio is making an appearance in the Southern Tier at the behest of longtime activist Jack Gilroy, a member of both the St. James Peace and Justice Committee and the Southern Tier SOA Watch groups.

Gilroy met Mauricio while lobbying for bill HR 1217, which would close the WHINSEC for six months and suspend its funding while an investigation is launched into its activities. Gilroy and Mauricio have both been in contact on an annual basis while demonstrating at the SOA/WHINSEC.

One year ago, Gilroy invited Mauricio to come to the northeast in support of bill HR 1217. While Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Rep. Jim Walsh (R-NY) both support HR 1217, Gilroy is hoping meetings between Mauricio and representatives from Pennsylvania will be fruitful.

After Friday’s events, Gilroy will drive Mauricio to Washington, D.C., for various meetings with members of the Senate and House of Representatives April 24 and 25. Wednesday, April 26, Gilroy and Mauricio have planned meetings with Rep. Don Sherwood (R-Pa.) and Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski (D-Pa.). They also plan to meet with students from the Jesuit-run Scranton University (Gilroy’s alma mater) and also students from Marian [Catholic] High School in Scranton. April 27, Mauricio will leave to attend several events in New York City.

Gilroy hopes Mauricio’s appearance will help sustain the campaign he has been so involved in over the years. “It’s to continue the interest in closing the school,” he said, noting that the issue has been on the minds of a lot of Americans recently. He hopes a presentation by a victim of torture will clarify the matter.

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