On Aug. 26, the deportation hearing for ex-political prisoner and human rights organizer Victor Toro was adjourned until Jan. 11, 2010. A Bronx community organizer and former leader in the 1970s-era resistance to Chile’s military dictatorship, Toro was arrested in an immigration sweep by border officials aboard an Amtrak train in Rochester, New York on July 6, 2007 and charged with being in the country illegally. He is currently free on $5,000 bail.
For the past quarter century Toro and his family have made the South Bronx their home. Toro’s wife is a U.S. citizen, and his daughter is a legal permanent resident. One of his first acts after settling in the South Bronx was to help found the organization La Peña Del Bronx which fights for immigrant and worker rights.
Toro told The Indypendent, “The act of deportation is a criminal act, for someone who has worked contributed to his community and society for more than 25 years. The sudden deportation will destroy my family, and separate me from the social networks I have built. This to me seems like a violation of human rights and a crime against my humanity.”
Before coming to the United States, Toro helped found and lead the group, Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR), or Revolution Left Movement. This group lead the opposition to the U.S.-sponsored coup against the military dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet, who seized power on September 11, 1973. Under the Pincohet regime, thousands of Chileans political opponents were killed and disappeared and tens of thousands more tortured.
As a leader of the opposition, Toro himself was imprisoned and brutally tortured for three years by the Pinochet regime, declared dead, and then forced into exile. According to the The New York Times, Pincohet considered Toro among the top 13 most dangerous people to the regime. He eventually made his way to the United States in in 1984.
Now the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement are seeking to deport Toro back to Chile. The prosecution filed a 46-page court brief which contains archival newspaper and magazine articles, Library of Congress documents and other reports on the activities of MIR. Also included in the brief is a 1986 RAND Corporation Study conducted for the U.S. Air Force that states that the MIR “has become the principle opposition to the current Pincohet government in Chile.” It charges that MIR attacked government buildings, assassinating government officials and assaulting others. However, the same documents show that MIR has not been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States or other U.S. allies such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada or the European Union.
It would appear the government will argue through Toro’s leadership with MIR—which the Pinochet regime considered a terrorist organization—that he was engaged in terrorism. Victor Toro’s lawyer, Carlos Moreno told The Indypendent he is ready to respond to these charges in court.
“I think the first thing that needs to be kept in mind is that MIR was at one point considered a terrorist organization but you have to consider who they were fighting,” Moreno said. “They were fighting Pinochet, an illegal government and therefore if the classification as a terrorist organization was earned because they were fighting an illegally established government.”
“I think it should be more of a badge of honor than a disgrace,” he added.
The brief also includes a Human Rights Watch Press Release which discusses current Chilean President Michelle Bachellet’s 2007 visit to Human Rights Watch. Bachelet’s election was significant in Chile because Bachelet herself was tortured during Pinochet’s rule. The report notes, “considerable progress Chile has made on human rights, thanks to the efforts of abuse victims, civil society groups, and leaders like President Bachelet.”
Despite the return of democracy to Chile in 1990, a current president who has first hand knowledge of Pinochet’s brutality, Toro remains concerned about what awaits him in Chile. In the biggest such action to date, on Sept 2. a Chilean judge ordered the arrest of 129 ex-members of the Chilean Secret Police, Dina.
“The armed forces have not been changed since Pincohet. The Supreme Court is also Pinochetista and both bodies of congress are composed mostly of congress members and senators left over from the old regime. So what we actually have in Chile is an inherited Pinochet government managed by Bachelett,” Toro said.
Moreno plans to produce contemporary witnesses and photographs of torture to argue the case against Toro’s deportation. Moreno is confident the motion will be granted.
“We have the best documented political asylum claim I have seen in years and our goal is to make sure victor remains in the United States and will not be deported,” Moreno said. “There is ample evidence which establishes that Pinochet and the military junta came to power with the support of the United States. That’s not subject to dispute.”
Moreno also added that while it is ironic that Toro is requesting asylum in the United States, it also makes sense.
“The United States is largely responsible for what happened in Chile..Therefore I would I would look at the political asylum claim as a way for some type of compensation from the U.S. government for what happened to Chile as a country and Victor as a person,” Moreno said.
Karen Yi contribued to this article.
For more on The Indypendent‘s past coverage of Victor Toro, check out the link below.