BATTALION 316. Part
1 of 4
11 June 1995
When a wave of torture and murder staggered a small U.S. ally, truth
was a casualty. Was the CIA involved? Did Washington know? Was the
Now we know: Yes, Yes and yes.
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -
search for Nelson Mackay Chavarria - family man, government lawyer,
possible subversive - began one Sunday in 1982 after he devoured a
and stepped out to buy a newspaper.
It ended last December
wife, Amelia, watched as forensic scientists plucked his moldering
bones from a pit in rural Honduras. Spotting a scrap of the
her husband was wearing the day he disappeared, she gasped: "Oh my God,
Along with Amelia
nation of Honduras has begun to confront a truth it has long suspected
- that hundreds of its citizens were kidnapped, tortured and killed in
1980s by a secret army unit trained and supported by the Central
as Battalion 316, used shock and suffocation
devices in interrogations.
Prisoners often were kept naked and,
when no longer useful, killed and
buried in unmarked graves.
and other sources show that the CIA and the U.S. Embassy
numerous crimes, including murder and torture, committed by Battalion
continued to collaborate closely with its leaders.
In order to keep U.S.
flowing into Honduras for the war against communism in Central America,
the Reagan administration knowingly made a series of misleading
Congress and the public that denied or minimized the violence of
These are among the
a 14-month investigation in which The Sun obtained formerly classified
documents and interviewed U.S. and Honduran participants, many of whom
fearing for their lives or careers - have kept silent until now.
Among those interviewed
three former Battalion 316 torturers who acknowledged their crimes and
detailed the battalion's close relationship with the CIA.
U.S. collaboration with
Battalion 316 occurred at many levels.
* The CIA was
in training and equipping Battalion 316. Members were flown to a secret
location in the United States for training in surveillance and
and later were given CIA training at Honduran bases.
* Starting in
United States secretly provided funds for Argentine counterinsurgency
experts to train anti-Communist forces in Honduras. By that time,
notorious for its own "Dirty War," which had left at least 10,000 dead
or "disappeared" in the 1970s. Argentine and CIA instructors worked
side by side training Battalion 316 members at a camp in
Lepaterique, a town about 16 miles west of Tegucigalpa.
* Gen. Gustavo
Martinez, who as chief of the Honduran armed forces personally directed
Battalion 316, received strong U.S. support - even
after he told a U.S. ambassador
that he intended to use the Argentine method of eliminating subversives.
* By 1983, when
oppressive methods were well known to the U.S. Embassy, the Reagan
administration awarded him the Legion of Merit for "encouraging the
democratic processes in Honduras." His friendship with Donald Winters,
the CIA station chief in Honduras, was so close that when Winters
adopted a child, he asked Alvarez to be the girl's godfather.
* A CIA officer
based in the
U.S. Embassy went frequently to a secret jail known as INDUMIL, where
torture was conducted, and visited the cell of kidnap victim Ines
That jail and other Battalion 316 installations were off-limits
to Honduran officials, including
judges trying to find kidnap victims.
The exact number of
executed by Battalion 316 remains unknown. For years, unidentified and
unclaimed bodies were found dumped in rural areas, along rivers and in
Late in 1993, the
government listed 184 people as still missing and presumed dead. They
are are called "desaparecidos," Spanish for "the disappeared."
Mackay is the first person on the list to be found and identified. The
discovery of an identifiable body has enabled prosecutors to try to
bring his killers to justice.
To this day, the events
Honduras have been little noticed, an obscure sideshow to a highly
publicized struggle in the region. They came about as the Reagan
waging war against a Marxist regime in Nicaragua and leftist insurgents
in El Salvador.
Honduras, a U.S. ally,
by Washington as the principal base for its largely clandestine effort.
Keeping Honduras secure from leftists was Battalion 316's mission.
"I think it is an
the pathology of foreign policy," said Jack Binns, a Carter appointee
as ambassador to Honduras who served from September 1980 through
October 1981. "The desire to conduct a clandestine war against
Nicaragua out of Honduras made us willing to go beyond turning a blind
eye and made us willing to provide assistance to people doing these
though we knew they were doing them."
former assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian
affairs from December 1981 to July 1985, when he was appointed
assistant secretary of state
for inter-American affairs, vigorously
defends the Reagan policy.
"Disappearing people -
murdering people, was not the policy of the United States. Nor was it
our policy to avert our eyes," Abrams said.
Abrams and other Reagan
administration officials said that while fighting communism was the
primary goal, they encouraged military leaders in Central America to
rights abuses. In contrast to the Carter administration, which had
emphasized human rights in crafting foreign policy, they tackled the
issue privately, Abrams said.
"A human rights policy
supposed to make you feel good," he said. "It's supposed to do some
good in the country you're targeting."
No one was safe
of the victims of Battalion 316 were subversives, involved in such
crimes as bombings and robberies. Nelson Mackay, an easy-going
man of Australian descent, had many friends
in the military. But he was suspected of arranging gun sales to a
radical student group.
Many others were kidnapped
and killed for exercising the same freedoms that the United States said
it was fighting for in Latin America. Victims included students
the release of political prisoners, union
leaders who organized strikes for higher wages, journalists
who criticized the military regime and college
professors demanding fair tuition for the poor.
Among the kidnapped
were 14 who
described their treatment in interviews with The Sun. Nine said members
of Battalion 316 clipped wires to their genitals and sent electric
surging through their bodies.
"They started with 110
said Miguel Carias, an architectural draftsman who was held captive
with Nelson Mackay for a week in 1982. "Then they went up to 220.
Each time they shocked me, I could feel my body jump and my mouth
filled with a metal taste."
Former members of
316, interviewed in Canada where they are living in exile, described
how prisoners were nearly suffocated with a rubber mask wrapped tightly
their faces. The mask was called "la capucha," or "the hood." Women
were fondled and raped, the torturers said.
The body of Mackay, who
was 37 years old and the father of five, showed signs of other tortures.
Farmers who found
Mackay's body in 1982 and later buried it reported that his hands
and feet were tied with rope and a noose
was around his neck. A
black liquid spilled from his
mouth. The farmers recognized the substance as "criolina," a
thick, black liquid rubbed on cattle to kill ticks and mites.
Stalking the victims
Before being kidnapped
and tortured, suspects
were stalked by Battalion 316.
Jose Valle, a former
battalion member now in Canada, describes a typical surveillance: "We
would follow a person for four to six days. See their daily routes from
they leave the house. What kind of transportation they use. The streets
they go on."
Once the battalion
the time and place an individual was most vulnerable, the person was
kidnapped, often in daylight by men in black ski masks. They ambushed
victims on busy streets, then sped off in cars with tinted windows and
no license plates.
The prisoners of
Battalion 316 were confined in bedrooms,
closets and basements of country homes of military officers.
Some were held in military
clubhouses at locations such as
INDUMIL, the Military Industries complex near Tegucigalpa.
They were stripped and
tied hand and foot. Tape was wrapped around their eyes.
Those who survived
recall interrogation sessions that lasted hours. Battalion
members shouted obscenities, accused them of being terrorists, and told
them they would never see
their families again if they did not answer questions and confess.
Milton Jimenez, former
of a radical leftist student group, endured such interrogation. He and
several college housemates were kidnapped by military police on April
When Jimenez refused to answer questions, he said, the officers told
him they were going to kill him. "They said they were finishing my
grave. . . . I was convinced that I was going to die."
They stood him before a
firing squad. They aimed their guns at him, promising that it was his
time to die. But they never fired.
Eventually, he was
never accused me of anything specific," said Jimenez in an
interview in Tegucigalpa, where he is now a lawyer. "They said they
knew I was a terrorist and they
are your friends?'"
There was nothing
sophisticated about the torture employed by Battalion 316. In
addition to la capucha - a piece of rubber cut from an inner tube that
prevents a person from
breathing through the mouth and nose - they used rope to hang victims
from the ceiling and beat them, and extension
cords with exposed wires for shock torture.
Gloria Esperanza Reyes,
now 52, speaking in an interview at her home in Vienna, Va., describes
how she was tortured with electric
wires attached to her breasts and vagina.
"The first jolt was so bad I just wanted to die," she said.
Jose Barrera, a former battalion
torturer interviewed in Toronto, recalls such pleas from
prisoners. "They always asked to be killed," he said. "Torture
worse than death."
Battalion 316 got its
training from Argentines, who had been invited to Honduras by General
Alvarez, himself an honors graduate of the Argentine Military Academy.
"The Argentines came in
first, and they taught how to disappear people. The United
States made them more efficient," said Oscar Alvarez, a former
Honduran special forces
officer and diplomat who was the general's nephew.
"The Americans ...
equipment," he said. "They gave the training in the United States, and
they brought agents here to provide some training in Honduras.
"They said, 'You need
to tap phones, you need someone to transcribe the tapes, you need
surveillance groups.' They brought in special cameras that were inside
thermoses. They taught interrogation techniques.
"The United States did
here and say kill people," he added. "I never saw any efforts by the
United States to create death squads."
General Alvarez's chief
staff, Gen. Jose Bueso Rosa, also describes the U.S. role in developing
the battalion. "It was their idea to create an intelligence unit that
reported directly to the head of the armed forces," he said. "Battalion
316 was created by a need for information. We were not specialists in
intelligence, in gathering information, so the United States offered
to help us organize a special unit."
(In 1986, Bueso was
in U.S. District Court in Miami of participating in a failed
drug-financed plot to kill former Honduran President Roberto Suazo
In the United States
Honduras, the CIA trained members of the unit in interrogation and
surveillance, former Battalion 316 members and Honduran officers said.
The training by the CIA
confirmed by Richard Stolz, then-deputy director for operations, in
secret testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in
The Sun's request, Stolz told the committee: "The course consisted of
three weeks of classroom instruction followed by two weeks of practical
exercises, which included the questioning of actual prisoners by the
"Physical abuse or
degrading treatment was rejected, not only because it is wrong, but
because it has historically proven to be ineffective," he added.
He confirmed that a CIA
officer visited the place where 24-year-old Ines Murillo was held
during her captivity.
Interviews with members
Battalion 316 confirm Stolz's testimony: The CIA taught them to apply
psychological pressure, but not physical torture. But
members and victims say the CIA knew that torture was
Florencio Caballero, a
former battalion member, recalls the instruction and the reality.
"They said that torture
was not the way to obtain the truth during an interrogation. But
Alvarez said the quickest way to get the information was with torture,"
he told investigators of the Senate intelligence committee.
investigators interviewed Caballero in Canada as part of the same
investigation in which Stolz testified.
In an interview with
The Sun, Oscar Alvarez also recalls the reality.
"What was supposed to
was that the intelligence unit would gather information and take it to
a judge and say, 'Here, this person is a guerrilla, and here's the
evidence," he said. "But the Hondurans did not do that." Slashing his
finger across his neck, he said, "They took the easy way."
And, he said, "U.S.
officials did not protest."
Mark Mansfield, a
the CIA, said: "As a matter of policy, we don't comment on liaison
relationships." But, he added, "The notion that the CIA was
involved in or sanctioned human rights abuses in Honduras is unfounded."
A man, a mission
When Alvarez took
the Honduran armed forces in 1982, at the age of 44, Washington had a
man ideally suited to its mission to combat Communist insurgency in
"Gustavo Alvarez was
very much out of national character - dynamic, firm, uncompromising,"
Winters, CIA station chief in Tegucigalpa from 1982 to 1984.
"He knew where he wanted to go."
Alvarez was the son of
school principal who made him recite poetry to overcome a stutter. But
his preferred reading was military history. He so admired
"Desert Fox" of World War II, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, that
he named one of his sons Erwin and another Manfred, after Rommel's son.
General Alvarez made no
secret about his
belief that terror and violence were the only ways to deal with
subversives. As commander of the national police force known as
Seguridad Publica (FUSEP), he had already created an intelligence unit
that would become known as Battalion 316.
On Feb. 6, 1981, while
FUSEP commander, but already selected as head of the Honduran armed
forces, he told Binns of his admiration for the way the Argentine
dealt with subversives and said that he planned to use the same methods
The U.S. ambassador was
shocked. In an urgent cable to superiors in Washington, he described
"Alvarez stressed theme
democracies and West are soft, perhaps too soft to resist Communist
subversion. The Argentines, he said, had met the threat effectively,
identifying - and taking care of - the subversives. Their method, he
opined, is the only effective way of meeting the challenge.
"When it comes to
subversion, [Alvarez] would opt for tough, vigorous and Extra-Legal
Action," Binns warned.
Four months later,
Binns was outraged to learn of the violent
abduction and disappearance of Tomas Nativi, a 33-year-old university
professor and alleged subversive. Nativi was
dragged from his bed on June 11, 1981, by six men wearing black ski
masks, according to witnesses and a 1993 Honduran government report.
He has not been seen
since and is presumed dead.
In his cable on the
Washington, the ambassador said: "I believe we should try to nip this
situation in the bud. I have already asked [CIA] chief of station to
raise this problem obliquely with ... Alvarez (whose minions appear to
be the principal actors and whom I suspect is the intellectual force
behind this new strategy for handling subversives/criminals)."
Falling on deaf ears
Binns recommended that
government act to stop the military violence by threatening to withhold
military aid. "Those suggestions drew a thunderous silence from
Washington," he said in a recent interview at his home in Tucson, Ariz.
"My message was not a message anyone wanted to hear."
administration had made it clear that it would diminish the criticism
of human rights abuses by its allies in places such as Central
America where it wanted to go on the
offensive against the Communist threat.
O. Enders, former assistant secretary of state for
inter-American affairs and a chief
architect of the early Reagan strategy, described the change of
policy in a recent
interview in New York, where he is a managing director of Salomon
Brothers Inc., an investment banking firm.
"We didn't think that
effectively sustain the resistance to the guerrillas in Central America
without being willing to give significant public support to their
governments," Enders said.
"We were afraid that
approach that had been adopted by the Carter administration, which was
highly critical of them and would result in their demoralization, would
convince the Soviet Union or the Salvadorans, Hondurans and others that
In the Reagan strategy,
Honduras, which the United States had used before to advance its
objectives in Central America, was ideally located between Nicaragua
and El Salvador.
General Alvarez seemed an ideal partner.
"Alvarez was a darling
Reagan administration," said Cresencio S. Arcos, U.S. Embassy press
spokesman from June 1980 to July 1985 and ambassador to Honduras from
December 1989 to July 1993.
While General Alvarez's
was rising, President Reagan was issuing orders for an aggressive,
largely secret thrust against communism in Central America.
By March 9, 1981 -
than two months in office - Reagan signed a presidential "finding" that
ordered the expansion of covert operations authorized by the Carter
administration, to "provide all forms of training, equipment, and
related assistance to cooperating governments throughout Central
America in order to counter foreign-sponsored subversion and terrorism."
On Dec. 1, 1981, he
ordered the CIA to work primarily through "non-Americans"
against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and leftist insurgents in
were to include Argentines, paid for by the CIA, Enders said in
an interview last month. He said there did not seem to be any
alternative to using the
Argentines, despite their poor record on human rights.
"There were not many
with counterinsurgency experience," Enders said. "How many people were
there who were Spanish speakers? [Human rights] was obviously a
concern, but when we got through looking at it, we
didn't see that we had any clear choice."
By the end of 1981,
the Reagan administration had replaced
Ambassador Binns with John Dimitri Negroponte, a man viewed as
committed to the administration's decision to confront
communism in Latin America.
The partnership with
and General Alvarez expanded. Military aid to Honduras jumped from $
3.9 million in 1980 to $ 77.4 million by 1984.
country eventually was crowded with so much U.S. military
equipment and personnel that some started referring to it as "the
While the U.S.
government heaped money and praise on Alvarez, evidence of human rights
One accusation came
Leonidas Torres Arias, after he was ousted as intelligence chief
for the Honduran armed forces.
In August 1982, he told
packed news conference in Mexico City about Battalion 316, "a death
squad operating in Honduras that was being led by armed forces chief,
Gustavo Alvarez." He mentioned three victims by name, including Nelson
At the U.S. Embassy in
Tegucigalpa, U.S. officials were confronted with personal and written
appeals for help from relatives of the disappeared.
Former Honduran Congressman
Efrain Diaz Arrivillaga said he spoke several times about the
military's abuses to U.S. officials in Honduras, including Negroponte.
attitude was one of tolerance and silence," he said. "They
needed Honduras to loan its territory more than they were concerned
about innocent people being
Negroponte, now U.S.
ambassador to the Philippines, has declined repeated requests by
telephone and in writing since July for interviews about this report,
recently in a hand-delivered letter to the embassy in Manila.
Almost every day,
newspapers published stories about the military's violence and
full-page ads with pictures of the missing. In 1982 alone, at least 318
published about military abuses.
Some directly named
"General Alvarez, as a
human being, I beg you to free my children," read one headline from El
Tiempo on April 30, 1982.
Members of the Honduran
Congress drafted resolutions calling for investigations into the
Relatives of Battalion
victims marched by the hundreds through the narrow streets of
Tegucigalpa demanding the return of the missing.
"Alive they were taken!
we want them back!" they chanted, mostly wrinkled old women with white
scarves covering their heads, carrying posters with drawings of their
missing sons and grandsons.
But, determined to
avoid questions in Congress, U.S.
officials in Honduras concealed evidence of rights abuses.
"There are no political
prisoners in Honduras," asserted the State Department human rights
report on Honduras for 1983.
By that time the
aware of numerous kidnappings of leftists and had participated in the
freeing of two prominent victims whose abduction and torture
Specific examples of
brutality by the Honduran military typically never appeared in the
human rights reports, prepared by the embassy under the direct
supervision of Ambassador
Negroponte. Those reports to Congress were required under the Foreign
Assistance Act, which in most circumstances prohibits the United States
from providing military aid to nations whose governments engage in a
consistent pattern of gross violations of human rights.
reports from Honduras were carefully crafted to leave the impression
that the Honduran military respected human rights.
(A fuller account of
how this was done will appear Sunday in part four of this series).
The end of Alvarez
By 1984, other Honduran
officers began to worry that Alvarez had dragged the country too far
into violence against their own people.
Col. Eric Sanchez, now
retired from the armed forces, thought Alvarez was "obsessed."
Alvarez about Battalion 316, Sanchez said the armed forces chief told
him: "One had to fight Communists with all weapons and in every arena,
not all of them are fair."
currently one of Honduras' three vice presidents, recalled in an
interview: "[Alvarez] was dangerous. He was pushing our country to do
something we did not
want to do. We were willing to be trained professionally, but only to
defend our country. Not for so-called undercover operations."
On March 31, 1984,
Alvarez's military career came to a sudden and unexpected end.
misappropriation of funds, he was ousted
by his own officers. One
junior officer held a gun to the general's head and handcuffed him. He
was put on a military plane for
Later the same year,
Alvarez and his wife and five children landed in Miami,
where they lived for five years. He joined an evangelical church in
Miami and embraced religion with as
much passion as he had embraced the fight against communism.
In 1988, Alvarez said
been urged in a dream to go back to Honduras and preach the gospel.
Shunning offers of protection from friends in the military, he preached
corners, saying, "My Bible is my protection."
On Jan. 25, 1989, five
dressed in blue and wearing hard hats surrounded his car and riddled it
with bullets from machine guns. Moments before he died, bleeding from
Alvarez asked: "Why are they doing this to me?"
The assassins have
never been found, but a group called the Popular Liberation Movement
a statement, the group referred to Alvarez as a psychopath who tried
"to escape popular justice by disguising himself as a harmless and
A widow's defense
Lilia Alvarez, the
general's widow, defends his memory.
"He knew they would
him for what he did. ... There were some illegal detentions, and maybe
the army executed some people, but think about how many lives were
Thousands of people were saved because my husband prevented a civil
The Honduran government
has taken several steps forward in the pursuit of the truth about the
disappearances of the 1980s.
In a 1993 report, "The
Facts Speak for Themselves," the government lists the name of
each of the disappeared and admits that it did not protect its citizens
abuses of the military.
arbitrary detentions and the lack of due process ... characterized
these years of intolerance," stated the report of the National
Commissioner for the Protection of Human Rights in Honduras. "Perhaps
more troublesome than the violations themselves was the authorities'
tolerance of these crimes and the impunity with which they were
The report represents
time that the Honduran government has admitted that the disappearances
occurred and that it shares responsibility.
Within a year after he
president of Honduras in 1994, Carlos Roberto Reina took further steps
to identify those responsible.
"Those of us who lived
time are committed not to relive it," said Honduran Attorney General
Edmundo Orellana. "We are committed to building a society that
One of the most
developments in that task was the discovery of an identifiable body of
a "desaparecido" - Nelson Mackay. With an identified body, a murder
investigation could be undertaken. The case has been helped by the
Miguel Carias, his alleged co-conspirator, to testify.
In an interview, Carias
described their last encounter.
They were together in a
brick house on the northern edge of Tegucigalpa that Battalion 316 used
as a secret jail. Mackay was held in a bedroom, his hands and feet tied
rope. Carias, locked in the closet, heard Mackay praying.
"Hail, Mary, full of
grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women ..."
Mackay's voice grew
louder as he recited the prayer over and over.
"I told him, 'Mackay
please shut up. I am going crazy with all your prayers,'" Carias said.
Mackay kept on. "Holy
Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our
"I never heard or saw
Nelson again," Carias said.
More than a decade
after the execution of Mackay and others, forces in Honduras still seek
the investigation into the crimes of the Honduran military.
Carias is kept under
round-the-clock guard. Two other Honduran witnesses in previous
inquiries have been killed.
human rights commissioner, Leo Valladares, has received so many
threats that, in April, he moved three of his children out of Honduras.
The move was hurriedly arranged
after one of Valladares' bodyguards was gunned down on a bus. No arrest
has been made in the slaying.
Despite this sort of
intimidation, the relatives of the disappeared remain determined. Once
a month, they meet in front of the Honduran Congress, in the center of
pass out fliers with the names and faces of the missing.
Fidelina Borjas Perez,
been searching for her son, Samuel, since he disappeared in January
1982 from a bus traveling to Honduras from Nicaragua.
"One day I hope God
lets me find my son, even if it is only his cadaver," she said.
Not one of the
believes that the disappeared are alive. But they want to know how
their relatives died and who is responsible.
"We are never going to
looking," says Maria Concepcion Gomez, whose common-law husband, a
union leader, disappeared in August 1982. Sitting in her living room
beneath a picture of The Last Supper, she said: "We are never going to
get tired. If the army is hoping that we will forget or that we will
give up, they are wrong."
Nelson Mackay's widow,
Amelia, shared that determination.
A few weeks after her
disappeared, she stopped her public search for him because of telephone
threats against her children. Instead, she worked long hours to keep
enrolled in private schools.
During the day she
worked as an
administrative assistant at the Honduran Foreign Ministry. At night,
she baked cakes and sold them to friends to supplement her income.
She stashed beneath her
bed a box containing her husband's
dental records, his identification card listing his height and
weight, and a photograph of him wearing the red-and-blue
checked shirt he wore the day he disappeared.
"I could not sleep at
she remembered. "I would walk around the dark house thinking maybe he
would come home. Maybe he would appear."
The first 'banana
Honduras is the
"banana republic," a term coined to describe the country's political
and economic dependency on U.S. fruit companies during the early 1900s.
The north coast of
Honduras, the country's richest farm region, was controlled by U.S.
fruit companies at the turn of the century. By 1914, they owned
nearly a million acres of
Honduras' most fertile territory.
The fruit companies
Honduras' only rail lines to transport produce, installed their own
banking systems, and bribed politicians and union leaders to do their
none of the wealth stayed in Honduras, the poorest country in Central
Population: 5.2 million
Average per capita
income: $ 540 per year
Education: Nearly half
of the people have not finished sixth-grade. 40 percent are illiterate.
Home life: 55 percent
rural areas or slums that surround Tegucigalpa, the capital, or San
Pedro Sula, the nation's second-largest city.
Catholic The Latin legacy of the CIA
Honduras is not the
only place in Latin America where the Central Intelligence Agency has
collaborated with repressive regimes.
It was disclosed this
year that a Guatemalan
army officer linked to two high-profile killings was a paid CIA agent.
One of the victims was an American
innkeeper in Guatemala, the
other a leftist guerrilla married to a Baltimore-born lawyer.
CIA officials allegedly
knew that the Guatemalan, Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, was involved in
the killings, but concealed
Created in 1947, the
conducted covert operations in Latin America since its inception. In
1954, the CIA engineered a coup launched from neighboring Honduras that
Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman and installed a military
supported the overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende in 1973,
then launched a covert program to enhance the reputation of Chilean
strongman Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
U.S. officials have admitted that the CIA paid former Panamanian
military ruler Manuel Antonio Noriega more than $ 160,000 as an
In the 1980s, the CIA
its activities in Latin America. The agency trained and funded a
clandestine paramilitary force known as the "contras" to attack the
Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
In El Salvador, Col.
Nicolas Carranza, then-Treasury police chief, reportedly was on the CIA
payroll during the 1980s as an informant. Carranza and the
Treasury police have been
linked to right-wing
Salvadoran death squads.
In one of its most
controversial Cold War actions, the CIA orchestrated the failed
invasion of Cuba by a force of Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs in April
With the end of the
Cold War, questions are being raised about the role
of the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies. The
intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA, are
undergoing an intense re-evaluation by a presidential commission that
is expected to report its findings early next year.
BATTALION 316. Part
2 0f 4 (top)
13 June 1995
Confessions Now in exile, these CIA-trained Hondurans describe their
lives -- and the deaths of their victims
Barrera gulped down a double shot of Sambuca before he began to talk
about his past as a torturer and
He recalled how he
suffocated people with rubber masks, how he attached wires to their
genitals and shocked them with electricity, how he
tore off a man's testicles with a
"We let them stay in
excrement," he said, his gold front tooth reflecting the dim lamplight.
"When they were very weak, we would take them to
Images such as these
cast a shadow over the lives of Barrera and other men who served in Battalion
316, a CIA-trained military unit that terrorized Honduras for
much of the 1980s.
At a time when Honduras
crucial to the U.S. government's war on communism in Central America,
the battalion was created and trained to collect intelligence. But it
stalked, kidnapped, tortured and murdered hundreds of Honduran men and
women suspected of subversion.
At least 184 of the
victims are missing and presumed dead. They are called "desaparecidos,"
Spanish for the "disappeared."
In hours of interviews
weeks in Toronto, where they live in exile, Barrera and other former
members of the battalion -- Florencio Caballero and Jose Valle -- told
how the unit operated.
Each of the men said he
by instructors from the CIA, sometimes together with instructors
from Argentina, where a campaign against suspected subversives
10,000 dead or disappeared in the 1970s.
Some training was
an army camp in Lepaterique, a town 16 miles west of the capital,
Tegucigalpa, the men said. Other sessions were held at a base
in the United States
whose location was kept secret even from them.
In separate interviews,
they described the courses in the same way: CIA
officers taught them "anti-guerrilla tactics" -- how to stake
out suspects' homes, use hidden
cameras and tap telephones, and how to question prisoners.
The training of
members in the early 1980s was confirmed in 1988 by Richard Stolz,
then-CIA deputy director for operations, in closed-door testimony
before the Senate
Select Committee on Intelligence. The testimony was recently
declassified at the request of The Sun.
Stolz and the former
members of Battalion 316 said that torture was discouraged by
CIA instructors in what Stolz called a "human resources exploitation or
But the former
battalion members said the CIA
knew of their use of torture.
When a CIA officer visited one of the battalion's secret jails, he saw
evidence of torture
and did not protest, the battalion members said.
knew everything we were doing," Caballero said. "They saw what
condition the victims were in -- their marks and bruises. They did not
The full names of the
officers were not known to their Honduran proteges. The head CIA
trainer was known as "Mr. Bill," according to the battalion members.
Stolz told the Senate
intelligence committee that "Mr.
Bill" was a CIA trainer in Honduras and that he was killed in the April
1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut,
"Mr. Bill" reportedly
was a former member of the U.S. Army special forces.
Caballero, Barrera and
Valle said that although the CIA instructors discouraged torture,
Honduran commanders demanded it, and that the penalty for disobedience
or trying to
leave the unit would have been death,
organization, there were many
who were not in agreement, but they couldn't get out," Caballero
said. "If we wanted to leave, we would have to leave
The Hondurans escaped
to Canada with the help of human rights groups that took their
Their accounts, which
were corroborated by interviews with survivors, by court testimony, by
human rights groups such as Amnesty
International and Americas Watch, and by a
1993 Honduran government report on disappearances.
Ghost of German Perez
prisoner who haunts him the most is German (pronounced "HERR-mon")
Perez Aleman, a man he befriended and then betrayed.
Caballero said he enticed
the union organizer to join him in a phony scheme to steal guns.
On Aug. 18, 1982, as
prepared to take the weapons from a local police station, Perez was
seized by five men wearing disguises.
"German fought a lot.
his ear," recalled Caballero, who was a member of Battalion 316 from
1980 until he fled in 1984. "They wore false mustaches and beards
and wigs. German pulled the wig off one of them. They finally dominated
him and pushed him into a blue Datsun."
In a secret jail on the
outskirts of Tegucigalpa, the men tortured
Perez and accused him of being an armed leftist, Caballero said.
Then they executed him.
knew the charges against Perez were false. He knew that Perez
didn't even own a gun. But he did nothing to stop the execution.
"It makes me feel very
bad because I met him. I
became friends with him, and I turned him over," Caballero said.
"They killed him unjustly."
He said Perez was held
country home where as many as 30 prisoners at a time were kept in
there was no more room to keep them there, and they weren't providing
much information, they killed them. The prisoners always ended up dead."
Caballero is a
short, husky man who walks with the swagger of a weightlifter. He has a
sixth-grade education and supports his family by working part time as a
driver and as a maintenance man in his Toronto apartment building.
In the midst of talking
his past over dinner at a Toronto restaurant, Caballero suddenly threw
a beefy arm into the air and shouted, "Goal!" He had caught a glimpse
of the television above the bar and let out a cheer when he saw that
the Spanish national soccer team had scored against the Italians in a
World Cup match.
shrimp, popped it into his mouth and washed it down with Budweiser.
Then he returned to his story of torture and murder.
He has told this story
many times. In October 1987, he described Battalion
316's operations before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in
Costa Rica. He later spoke with the
staff of the Senate intelligence committee about CIA collaboration with
consistent over the years. Substantial parts of his testimony have been
corroborated by prisoners of Battalion 316, former members of the unit
The only dispute is
over Caballero's role in Battalion 316: He says that he was not a torturer.
was an interrogator," Caballero said.
former army commander and a former member of Battalion 316 remember him
Col. Mario "El Tigre"
former head of the Honduran special forces, knew Caballero before he
transferred from the regular army to the intelligence unit.
In an interview at his
Tela on the sandy Caribbean coast of northern Honduras, Amaya, whose
nickname means "the tiger," recalled Caballero as "a
"Sometimes he killed
because he was ordered to," Amaya said. "Other times, because he wanted
to do it."
Fausto Reyes, a former
member of Battalion 316, recalls him similarly.
Caballero was one of the most violent interrogators of 316," he
Caballero said he
cooperates with investigations into the crimes of Battalion 316 as a
way to atone.
don't want people to think my heart is pure, but what I'm expressing
comes from my heart," he said. "The truth is, this caused a lot of harm
The early days
flat, gray cinder-block building that once housed the Francisco Morazan
athletic club, in the 21st of October neighborhood of Tegucigalpa.
The battalion was
Col. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, commander of the Honduran military
police, and remained under his authority after he became head of the
forces in 1982 with the rank of general.
Alvarez appointed Capt.
Alexander Hernandez to run the battalion. Caballero said execution
orders came down to the battalion from Alvarez and Hernandez.
Caballero recalled the
kill Angel Manfredo Velasquez, a 35-year-old graduate student, teacher
and political activist. The father of three was abducted by Battalion
Sept. 12, 1981.
"By order of Alvarez,
sure that no one would ever find his body, they took him from
Tegucigalpa and stabbed him to death," Caballero said. "Then they cut
body to pieces with a machete and buried the pieces in different places
along the road from Tegucigalpa to Progreso de Yoro."
Hernandez, now a
colonel in the Honduran military police, denied any involvement with
disappearances or murders.
"There is no proof
said the tall, thin man, sitting erect with his arms across his chest
in his office in Tegucigalpa.
In interviews with The
in court testimony, Caballero described the CIA role in training
members of Battalion 316, most of whom never attended high school but
reading and writing skills.
He said that he and
about 25 other Hondurans were taken in a Honduran air force plane in
1980 to what he thought was Texas.
"We went to a military
was so private. There was no TV, no cable, only videotapes," Caballero
recalled. "The [Honduran] officers knew where we were. They
would say, 'here in Texas.' It was like a college. We had everything we
needed -- food, drink, a swimming pool."
The CIA instructors,
Caballero said, taught that torture rarely achieved desired
results. Instead, the instructors showed the students forms of
psychological pressure: how
to study prisoners, discover what they loved and what they hated, and
then to use that knowledge against them.
"If a person did not
cockroaches, then that person might be more cooperative if there were
cockroaches running around the room," Caballero said.
But while the CIA
instructors discouraged physical torture, Alvarez demanded it.
"Alvarez said, 'I'm in
charge here. I do not like interrogations without physical torture,
'" Caballero recalled. "As a result, physical torture
The battalion held its
prisoners in dozens of places -- an old military clubhouse, an athletic
center and the country villas of military officers.
German Perez was
the country home of Col. Amilcar Zelaya, former head of the Honduran
military police force, Caballero said. The two-story, peach-colored
Tamara, 10 miles outside Tegucigalpa, is surrounded by mango and orange
trees, and can barely be seen from the road.
"Many died there,"
Caballero was based on
the southern edge of Tegucigalpa, near the Military Industries complex,
barracks for the battalion. Prisoners were kept in a one-story,
circular building that was once a clubhouse for an artillery brigade.
attorneys nor prisoners' relatives were permitted to visit INDUMIL.
When judges ordered the
military to reveal a captive's whereabouts, Caballero said, battalion
members would mock them. "We would laugh at them and say, 'Why are they
about that one? That one is already dead.'"
Caballero joined the
Honduran military as did many of its soldiers -- he was pressed into
In 1977, as he sat in a
watching a movie with a girlfriend, soldiers burst in and ordered the
women to leave. The men were loaded into buses and taken to a military
barracks for training.
Caballero said he spent
in an infantry brigade in Santa Rosa de Copan, a town on the Caribbean,
where he earned a reputation for violence, according to other members
Honduran military. He said he was invited in 1980 to become a member of
a "special intelligence unit," the unit that later became known as
Unit leaders told him
that Battalion 316 would help save Honduras from communism, but
Caballero said he joined for the money.
"I didn't do it because
it, nor because I had ideas from the far right," he said. "I never
considered myself an ultra right-wing person or a leftist. ... In
Honduras, if someone comes and offers you a very high salary, of course
you're going to accept.
"Alvarez Martinez said
that we would earn the salary of an officer, 750 lempiras a month [then
worth $ 375]. In that time, that was very good money," Caballero
Caballero said that he
left Battalion 316 in 1984 because he had gotten married and his wife
pressured him to quit.
"She told me what I was
doing was bad."
Two years later, he
members of the battalion shot at him with a machine gun. Caballero said
he had begun giving information about Battalion 316 to human rights
and that battalion leaders wanted him dead. He was not injured, but
said he knew that the attacks would continue if he stayed in Honduras.
He fled Honduras in
The tools of torture
JOSE VALLE DESCRIBED
the techniques of torture
-- very simple, very painful. One favored technique, Valle said, was to
force a prisoner to stand naked on a chair, then to
tie a basket to his testicles. As the torturer asked questions, he
filled the basket with rocks or corn and swung it back and forth.
"There was nothing to
it," Valle said.
Valle, now 37, is a
with a round face, curly hair and a sparse beard. As he speaks about
the pain he inflicted, he interjects pleas for understanding and
Unemployed, separated from his wife, and living in public housing in
Toronto, he spends his days watching his small children and brooding
about his past.
"I was involved. Yes, I
participated. Yes, I was involved with torture, " Valle said, sitting
on his couch beneath a wall decorated with the blue and white Honduran
and portraits of his parents.
"I was doing a job,"
said, "something I did to give food to my kids. I knew it wasn't right
because other families were sacrificing their loved ones."
Valle was 15 when he
armed forces. He said his superiors considered him an asset because he
could read and write, and because he knew how to drive.
"I wanted to make the
army a career," he recalled. "I wanted to rise and do something."
Running errands for
made Valle feel important. He was proudest that he had become useful to
Colonel Hernandez, the first head of Battalion 316. "[Hernandez] had so
much confidence in me he sent me to buy things like cigarettes for
him," Valle boasted.
Valle's loyalty earned
invitation to a three-month training course. Valle said the course was
held at an army base in Lepaterique. The instructors were Americans and
Argentines, at a time when the CIA was paying Argentine
counterinsurgency trainers in Honduras.
Valle said the
instructors taught how to use "la capucha" -- "the hood" -- a rubber
mask that was wrapped around a person's face to suffocate him.
"The rubber is put over
prisoner's face. They put a foot on the back of the neck and pull up on
the rubber. Another person slaps the ears. Before starting, they tell
'When you want to talk more, nod your head.' The Argentines taught
The Americans, he said,
us training in surveillance, disguise and photography. They showed us a
camera that looked like a thermos. They told us how to open locked
and taught us methods of interrogation."
Afterward, Valle said,
assigned to Battalion 316, which he considered a high honor. He earned
more money. He wore civilian clothes, and he drove nice cars.
Valle said his
superiors told him that the work of the battalion was crucial in saving
Honduras from the Communists.
"When we started with
battalion and started doing disappearances, [the officers] told us we
were doing good for the country," Valle said. "If the country fell to
communism it would be terrible."
Valle's first job for
the unit was surveillance, following suspects for four to six days to
determine the best time to strike.
"We would see if he
straight home or stopped at the restaurant or university," Valle said.
"We would take notes. We would take pictures if none existed. We
would use motorcycles, cars.
"We would go out and
the kidnapping," Valle said. "We all wore black masks. ... If a suspect
resisted, we beat him and sometimes shot him in the leg."
After several months on
the kidnapping squad, he was allowed to participate in interrogations.
Torture was always used, he said.
Many prisoners were
executed, Valle said. He remembers one execution particularly vividly.
Late one night, on a
outside Tegucigalpa, he watched as another battalion member pushed a
prisoner from the car and began stabbing him, Valle said. After five
the prisoner was still alive, murmuring what sounded like a prayer.
Valle said his
associate pulled a gun and shot the prisoner. They left the body by the
"It was the most
horrible thing I have ever seen," he said.
In 1985, Valle decided
to leave the battalion and fled to Mexico. He and his family moved to
Canada a year later.
He attempts to explain
his work for Battalion 316.
"If I get an order and
oppose, I'm risking my life. And what can I do?" he asked, shrugging
his shoulders. "I never wanted to wash my hands of what I did. I know I
"I knew what I was
said. "But there is a point where you go through this door and you
cannot go back out through that same door.
"Either you go out dead
or you go out disappeared."
A hit list recalled
JOSE BARRERA WAS ONE of
Battalion 316's assassins. He keeps in his mind a list of the people he
There was Jorge Alberto
Carrillo, who Barrera shot to death in December 1983 at a bar in
northern Honduras. Barrera recalled that his superior gave him 600
lempiras -- the
equivalent of about $ 300.
There was Ricardo
Barrera said that he and other members of Battalion 316 used a rope to
tear off Garcia's testicles. Then they killed him. Barrera said he
lempiras and spent it at a June fair.
In August 1985, Barrera
thrust a knife into the abdomen of Juan Hernandez Dominguez.
"I did it to earn
merit," he said.
For five years, Barrera
privileges and money in Battalion 316. Now 36, he is a thin man with
small eyes the color of coal and thick, black eyebrows. In an interview
Sun and in a 16-page sworn statement to the Committee for the Defense
of Human Rights of Honduras (COFADEH) in 1987, Barrera admitted the
murders he committed as a member of Battalion 316.
Born to a poor family
and never formally educated, Barrera said he joined the army at 14 to
He failed many of the
basic training courses because he could not adequately read or write.
It appeared unlikely that he would climb through the ranks.
So, in April 1981, when
superiors offered him the opportunity to carry a gun and make the
equivalent of $ 250 a month, Barrera took the job.
In 1983, he underwent
at the Honduran military base at Lepaterique, where he said he was
taught interrogation methods by eight U.S. and four Argentine
"The Argentines taught
courses on torture, " he said.
Barrera said U.S.
later taught him to tap telephones in a course conducted in San Pedro
Sula, Honduras' second-largest city.
He said he served as
a torturer and assassin in Battalion 316, traveling the country on
He said he employed a
of methods to make prisoners talk. He hogtied and kicked them, pulled
the hair off their legs, jolted their bodies with electricity and
with a rubber hood.
If those methods
failed, Barrera threatened to harm their families.
"The first thing we
is that we know your mother, your younger brother, and it's better you
cooperate, because if you don't, we're going to bring them in and rape
them and torture them and kill them," he recalled.
"We would show
of their family. We would say, 'We're going to get your mother and rape
her in front of you.' Then we would make it seem like we went to get
In 1986, Barrera said,
accused him of betraying the battalion because he had friends suspected
of being leftists. He had seen another member of Battalion 316 killed
the same reason. Fearing for his life, Barrera deserted in September
"I knew I was going to
disappear," he said.
A month later he was
seized from his home. He says he was taken to a secret jail and
Forty-eight days later,
Barrera was released alive, after a campaign by relatives and leaders
of human rights groups.
The activists helped
Barrera flee to Mexico. From there, he moved to Canada.
Returning to Honduras
would mean certain death, he said.
"First, I look out for
me, the safety of my own self."
BATTALION 316 DID NOT
alone. Officers in all branches of the Honduran military helped. The
Honduran air force flew prisoners out of the country or to military
throughout Honduras. Officers in the special forces raided the homes of
suspected subversives or captured suspects camped along the Honduran
Honduran police stopped
suspected leftists and turned them over to the battalion.
One collaborator was
Reyes, chief of motorcycle police in San Pedro Sula from 1980 to 1986.
The 39-year-old Reyes described how he helped Battalion 316 stage
He recalled the morning
29, 1983, when he pulled over Herminio Deras, a leader of the Honduran
Communist Party. Reyes said he turned Deras over to three battalion
dressed in civilian clothes.
"I gave this guy to
alive," Reyes said. "After that, I went to have a soda and an
enchilada. ... I returned when I heard the gunshot. ... Mr. Herminio
dead. He was there on the street.
"I felt bad as a
person. I felt bad as a man. I felt bad as a policeman. I felt like a
violator of the law."
A clean-cut man with
brown skin, a double chin and wide, expressive eyes, Reyes worked for
Battalion 316 from 1982 until he fled Honduras in 1988, after he and
one of his
sons were shot at from an unmarked car.
He was interviewed by
The Sun in Brockville, Ontario, where he lives with his wife and five
children. Reyes drives a taxi.
Reyes, the son of a
company manager, joined the police as a bugler at the age of 13. He
attended high school at night, graduating in 1974. He was an instructor
at a police
academy in Tegucigalpa.
In 1980, Reyes was
chief of motorcycle police in San Pedro Sula. In Honduras, the police
are a branch of the armed forces.
His mentor was General
Alvarez, the head of the Honduran armed forces who created Battalion
"I admired him," Reyes
"He dressed very neatly. He wanted to build a professional institution.
He was very decent with me. He made me feel very good. I thought
the doors to my future were open."
Reyes said that his
loyalty to Alvarez led him to agree to collaborate with the unit.
"They wanted to capture
of terrorists that were infiltrating Honduras, and all I had to do was
easy -- stop the vehicle and they would capture them," he recalled.
"As a policeman, I felt
very important to comply. But later I noticed that these people were
not terrorists," he said. "I thought they would be like, Syrians,
but the prisoners were Hondurans.
"I thought the
prisoners would be interrogated, but later I noticed that Battalion 316
was killing people."
Reyes said bodies began
appearing "in rivers and in the banana fields." He said he was so
shaken by Deras' murder that he went to Alvarez to report it.
"I said, 'I know
killed someone,' " Reyes recalled. "He said, 'Why did they involve you
in this?' And he said a soldier must always be loyal and never
speak against his superiors.
"He told me, 'What you
have seen, you have to take to your grave.'"
LOAD-DATE: June 14, 1995
316. Part 3 of 4 (top)
June 15, 1995
A Survivor Tells Her
Treatment for a leftist: Kicks, freezing water and electric shocks. In
between, a visitor from the CIA.
DAY AFTER DAY, for 78
Ines Consuelo Murillo was tortured by a secret Honduran military
intelligence unit called Battalion 316.
Her captors tied the
24-year-old woman's hands and feet, hung her naked from the ceiling and
beat her with their fists. They fondled her. They nearly drowned her.
wires to her breasts and sent electricity surging through her body.
"It was so frightening
my body would shake when they shocked me. They put rags in my throat so
I would not scream," she said. "But I screamed so loud,
sometimes it sounded like an animal. I would even scare myself."
Murillo is one of
abducted and tortured during the 1980s by Battalion 316, a unit trained
and equipped by the CIA to gather intelligence about subversives, at a
Honduras was crucial to the Reagan administration's war against
communism in Central America.
Many of those kidnapped
later murdered, their bodies discovered in fields and along riverbanks.
At least 184 people are missing and presumed dead.
From interviews with
her parents, battalion member Florencio Caballero and others involved
in the case, The Sun has pieced together the story of her days and
ordeal also was obtained from secret testimony by a high-level CIA
official before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In that
testimony, Richard Stolz, then the CIA deputy director for operations,
confirmed that a CIA officer visited the jail where Battalion 316 held
She and her captors
recalled the visits by the American, a man they knew as "Mr. Mike."
The CIA's visits to the
are significant because U.S. officials in Honduras repeatedly claimed
at the time that they had no evidence that the Honduran military was
systematic human rights abuses.
In his testimony, Stolz
"I have no facts to contradict Ms. Murillo's statement that she
suffered physical abuse at the hands of the Honduran military
Stolz also confirmed
battalion members, Florencio Caballero and Marco Tulio Regalado, were
trained by the CIA. Murillo accuses those battalion members of being
torturers. The two men graduated from a CIA interrogation course on
March 13, 1983. It was the same day that Murillo was seized by
Ines Murillo was
evening as she walked with a friend along the dusty road from Choloma,
a small town near the northern coast of Honduras.
She and her companion,
shoemaker Jose Flores, were taken away by men who drove up in two
trucks. The men beat them, she says, and threw them in the back of a
Murillo said she felt
trembling. "Although they will tell you you are guilty of something,
and they will tell you that I said you are guilty of something, do not
into this madness," she says she whispered. "You are completely
By all accounts,
not innocent. She refuses to comment on any alleged subversion. But she
has been identified as a member of the Lorenzo Zelaya Front, an armed
group that robbed banks and businesses and stole weapons from police.
Her participation in the group was confirmed by one of its former
leaders, Efrain Duarte.
having used false names, carrying fake identification and sleeping in
different places to avoid capture.
After their abductors
about an hour, Murillo and Flores were hauled from the truck, through a
house and into a damp, chilly basement.
She says the men
stripped her, then tied her hands and feet.
When they asked who she
she told them she was Maria Odelia Duvon Medrano, an acquaintance whose
name she had used to get the false identification she carried.
The men lifted Murillo
and dunked her head in a barrel of water, holding her there until her
flailing body went limp.
At first, she
fabricated a story.
"I told them that I had
Nicaragua, fallen in love and fought with the Sandinistas. ... It was
all lies, but it was what they wanted to hear."
'I know your father'
FOR DAYS, MURILLO says,
Flores were held in the basement with two or three torturers at a time
and given nothing to eat or drink. Her captors fondled her and
rape her if she fell asleep.
As torturers attached
her body, she saw through her blindfold that they wore graduation rings
from the Honduran military academy.
"The rings have a blue
stone," she said.
After 10 days, Murillo
she felt so weak from lack of food and sleep that she was sure the next
shock session would kill her.
It was then that a
heavily cologned officer offered relief. He removed Murillo's blindfold
and asked her to look into his eyes to see that he meant no harm.
The heavyset man
breathed as if
his weight was too heavy to carry, she recalls. She says the man was
Marco Tulio Regalado, one of the men of Battalion 316 trained in
methods by the CIA.
Murillo says that
covered her with a rough cotton shirt. Then he held up a plate of cold
beans and stiff tortillas. To her, it looked like a feast.
"He fed it to me at
first," she said. "Then he untied my hands so that I could eat."
He politely asked her
cooperate. He said that they had checked and learned that her name was
not Maria. The tortures would stop, he promised, if she would just tell
She suddenly could not
remember her false identity.
"I became hysterical
and began to laugh," Murillo recalled. "I wrote my real name and my
The man she identified
Regalado looked at the names and realized that her father was a former
military officer. She says he screamed at her: "Bitch, I know your
Attempts by The Sun to
Regalado have been unsuccessful. But in testimony before the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica, Regalado denied any
Murillo's captivity. He said he had no knowledge of the case except for
what he had read in the newspapers.
Once her captors
she came from a prominent family and was a soldier's daughter, Murillo
says, they became less harsh.
For a few weeks she was
tortured -- only a few shoves and punches. Her captors agreed to untie
her hands while she slept. They told her they had made anonymous calls
parents to tell them she was alive. Finally, she says, they promised
that when the time came, they would make her death quick.
"I told them, 'When you
shoot me, shoot me good so that I die quick,'" Murillo recalled.
One night, after more
month in the basement, Murillo and Flores were awakened roughly. Her
captors seemed angry, she recalls. They shoved her and yelled at her to
put on her
clothes. They blindfolded her and pushed the two of them upstairs and
into the night.
"I thought they were
going to kill us," she said. "I began to cry."
But Murillo and Flores
executed. They rode south for 2 1/2 hours to another clandestine jail
near a military complex known as INDUMIL, an acronym for Industrias
Situated among the low
south of Tegucigalpa, the jail at INDUMIL was a flat, circular building
used as a training center for an artillery battalion.
Murillo heard the booms
of large guns.
Her captors pushed her
what she took to be a photo lab because of the odor, then cleared the
room, saying they didn't want her to commit suicide by drinking
Flores was taken away,
Murillo says. She did not see him for the remainder of her captivity.
A radio blared all day,
music couldn't mute the screams of prisoners. Murillo says she
particularly remembers the cries of a woman being tortured in the next
"I heard one of the men
was going to stick a rod inside the woman," Murillo said. "The woman
screamed, 'No, no!' And then she just screamed.
"Sometimes it felt as
if they were torturing other people to torture me."
Murillo said the
torture at INDUMIL "was much more sophisticated."
"They tortured my mind
and my body."
Again she was stripped
allowed to sleep. Her captors came into her cell every 10 minutes to
pour water over her head and shoulders.
"It was only this much
water," she said, picking up her coffee cup. "But it had ice in it. It
was so cold."
Once, her tormentors
German shepherd named Mauser into her cell. She was blindfolded, she
recalls, but she could tell that the dog was huge when her captors
forced her to
touch his broad head.
"He growled all the
time and barked," Murillo said. "I thought they were going to let him
Murillo was told to
straight and still; if she moved, Mauser would attack, her captors
warned. Murillo says she felt Mauser brush her legs as he circled.
She stood still for
an hour. Her torturers refused to let her go to the bathroom. When she
urinated on the floor, they taunted her.
"They would say to me,
'You Communists have no mothers. You have no morals. You have no
At INDUMIL, Murillo
Florencio Caballero, another member of Battalion 316 who had graduated
from the same CIA training course as Regalado.
Caballero spent hours
interrogating Murillo in the clandestine jail -- asking about
everything from leftist guerrilla activities in Central America to
whether she had a boyfriend.
In interviews in
Caballero has lived with his wife and children since he fled Honduras
in 1986, he recalled how Murillo was brutalized. When she arrived, he
her body was shrunken from weeks without food. He confirmed that she
and Flores were shocked with electricity.
"They attached cables
with clips to their genitals, on their sides and on their backs," he
Caballero says he never
raised a hand against Murillo, but only questioned her.
Murillo, arching her
thin eyebrows, says she remembers Caballero as a torturer.
"I remember perfectly
he did to me," she said, although she refused to describe precisely
what it was. "His story that there were some who tortured and
others who just interrogated was a lie. Everyone in the jail tortured."
After several weeks at
INDUMIL, Murillo says, she heard Caballero ask: "Is she still alive?
Why haven't they killed her?"
'Mr. Mike' visits
ABOUT TWO MONTHS into
captivity, an American who seemed to be a regular visitor to the area
came to her cell, Murillo says. Whenever he came, she would hear her
shouting, "Here comes Mr. Mike."
"It was like an uncle
coming to visit," she recalled. "I could tell he did not live there,
but he was always welcome."
On this occasion,
Murillo says, the Hondurans dressed her in a rough cotton shirt and
pants, and secured her blindfold.
After being blindfolded
long, Murillo says, her other senses had become more acute. She heard
the footsteps of three or four people enter her cell. Then she heard
of a pencil scribbling on a pad and the passing of the pad from one
person to another.
One of her
to speak. It sounded as if he were reading, Murillo recalls. And
although he spoke in Spanish, with a Honduran accent, his questions
"These are not the questions of Battalion 316. They are the questions
of Mr. Mike." He was writing them and passing them to the Honduran
interrogator, instead of speaking himself, she believes. And unlike the
usual interrogations, there was no torture.
The man she believed to
be an American remained silent through the 10-minute interrogation.
THE AMERICAN'S VISIT to
jail where Murillo was held was confirmed in secret testimony before
the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in June 1988 by the CIA's
director for operations, Richard Stolz.
He testified that the
agency learned from Honduran military sources on April 5, 1983, that
Murillo had been arrested.
A transcript of his
testimony was declassified at The Sun's request.
"Mindful of the human
issue, headquarters inquired about her current condition and asked if
formal charges had been brought against her," Stolz testified. He said
that a CIA officer went to visit "the area where Ms. Murillo was held."
Much of Stolz's account
involvement in the Murillo case was censored by the CIA before the
transcript was released to The Sun.
Stolz declined to
Caballero told The Sun
remembered the visit by "Mr. Mike." Battalion members put clothes on
Murillo that day, he says, but they did not cover all of her bruises
"He saw how she was,"
Caballero's account is
consistent with information that he provided to investigators from the
Senate intelligence committee. He told investigators that a CIA
INDUMIL "quite frequently" and "even more so when [Murillo] was in
custody," according to a previously classified, 22-page transcript
obtained by The Sun.
"I believe it may be
four times a week," Caballero told the investigators. When we had
[Murillo] he visited us very frequently." He said the CIA official
"even did some of the questioning."
"We never knew when
[deletion] was to visit," Caballero added. "He came and went as he
pleased. He had full access."
Two days after "Mr.
visited her, Murillo says, one of her captors offered her a chance to
live: She was to give a press conference, admitting that she was a
guerrilla and warning the country that Communist groups were plotting
to overthrow the government.
"The torturers spent
telling me the benefits of giving the press conference," she said. "I
would be able to see my family. I would be free."
As an inducement, she
they made life more comfortable. They allowed her to bathe for the
first time in two months. They gave her a meal of beans and rice, and
they gave her a
thin mattress to sleep on.
"I knew then that the
conference was the idea of the American," she said. "I knew that this
American had the power to decide whether I lived or died."
She said she also
the possibility of returning home. But her hopes were shattered the
next day when she told her captors that she would give the press
if it were live, with real reporters, and only if her parents were
"They told me, 'Do you
think we are idiots?" Murillo recalled. She said the beatings resumed.
A family's pleas
MURILLO'S FAMILY had
up hope. Murillo's mother, Ines, a German national employed by the
United Nations, sought help from German officials in Honduras and from
Anton Kruderink, a U.N.
official in Honduras, spoke to ambassadors in Tegucigalpa and to
numerous military officials about Murillo's abduction.
Gen. Gustavo Alvarez
Martinez, head of the Honduran armed forces, became indignant about
"He told me, 'What
business of yours is this matter?'" Kruderink recalled in an interview.
But Kruderink was
undaunted. He raised Murillo's plight with every Honduran official he
"I felt that the more I
spoke publicly, the more embarrassing it would be to the people who
were holding her," he said.
The ambassadors he met,
including U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte, expressed interest in the
Murillo case and said they would ask about her when they talked with
Cesar Murillo, Ines
father, was sure that the more the world knew about his daughter's
captivity, the better her chances of being released alive.
He spoke regularly to
reporters, human rights investigators, government officials and foreign
diplomats. He filed habeas corpus petitions with the Honduran Supreme
"The president of the
Court said he was scared of the army and [that] there was nothing he
could do," he said bitterly. "[The judges] told me to look for her
President Roberto Suazo
told Honduran reporters that Murillo and others listed as disappeared
were Communists who had left Honduras to live in Cuba, Moscow or
Cesar Murillo took his
campaign to the United States, traveling twice to speak with
congressional aides about his daughter.
He wrote to Honduran
Minister Edgardo Paz Barnica, threatening to expose the activities of
Battalion 316 if his daughter was not released alive.
In a letter dated May
he said he had proof that the Honduran military was holding his
daughter. He named Honduran officers posted at INDUMIL. He identified
an official at
the U.S. Embassy -- Michael Dubbs -- as someone who knew where his
daughter was being held.
If his daughter was
alive, he wrote: "I promise not to divulge the details of her ordeal
and to convince my daughter to live outside Honduras."
A ranking diplomat in
Embassy in Tegucigalpa at the time confirms that there was a CIA
officer named Michael Dubbs stationed there.
The Sun visited Dubbs'
Indiana. A man who answered the door declined to identify himself or to
respond to questions about the Murillo case.
On May 27, 1983 -- 74
Murillo's captivity -- her parents purchased a full-page ad in El
Tiempo, a prominent Honduran newspaper. The ad was a portrait of
with the words: "Courage, my daughter."
Four days later,
released Murillo and Flores. The prisoners were taken to a public jail
and then to a court for arraignment.
"They put Don Jose and
together," Murillo recalled. "I took off his blindfold and I told him,
'I think we have survived.' We were the happiest people in the
They made their first
appearance in a courthouse in Tegucigalpa. Murillo wore an old pair of
pants and a flowered blouse. Flores was barefoot.
They were met by a
crush of Honduran journalists. Murillo hugged her mother.
In charges presented
Murillo in a Honduran criminal court, military officials stated that
they had confiscated crude drawings of police posts from her purse. The
listed police personnel and types of weapons held there.
In addition, the
presented as evidence books of Marxist literature that allegedly
belonged to Murillo and "subversive" poems they said she had written.
Allegations of sabotage
IN COURT DOCUMENTS, the
Honduran military charged that Murillo was involved in plots to rob
banks in San Pedro Sula and attempts to sabotage telephone
communication centers. Flores
was charged as her accomplice.
"They had no evidence
against him," Murillo said. "He was accused because he was a friend of
Murillo and Flores
pleaded not guilty. Both testified about the torture they had endured
in the secret jails of Battalion 316.
A doctor who examined
reported to the court that she had sustained some injuries, mostly
bruises, but that there was no proof that they had been caused by
"It's so ridiculous,"
Murillo, poring over court documents in a restaurant where one
interview was conducted. "This was Honduran justice. Most of these
are not mine."
Murillo and Flores were
found guilty of treason and attempts to overthrow the government.
She was sentenced to
in the Women's Jail in Tegucigalpa, and served 13 months. Flores
received the same sentence, which he served in full. In 1986, he fled
where he died last year.
Today, at 36, Murillo
usually dressed in bright, youthful skirts and sandals. Her face,
though, appears older. Her cheeks are sunken, her eyes twitch and her
head jerks slightly
when she speaks.
She testified about her
before the Inter-American Court for Human Rights in Costa Rica. In her
pursuit of justice for the leaders of Battalion 316, Murillo says, she
aside the rage she feels about her captivity to interview former
rank-and-file members of the battalion.
"It made me sick to my
stomach," she said, speaking about interviews she conducted with one
former battalion member.
She recently began work
human rights observer for the United Nations mission in Guatemala.
Previously, she worked with the Committee for the Defense of Human
Honduras (CODEH), which is pressing for charges to be brought against
military officials involved with Battalion 316.
"Sometimes I wish I
away and work on a boat in the middle of the ocean," she said. "I speak
not for myself, but for those who cannot speak."
316. Conclusion of a four part series (top)
18 June 1995
A Carefully Crafted
Honduras -- A
dangerous truth confronted John Dimitri Negroponte as he prepared to
take over as U.S. ambassador to Honduras late in 1981.
The military in
Honduras -- the
country from which the Reagan administration had decided to run the
battle for democracy in Central America -- was kidnapping and murdering
"GOH [Government of
security forces have begun to resort to extralegal tactics --
disappearances and, apparently, physical eliminations -- to control a
subversive threat," Negroponte was told in a secret briefing book
prepared by the embassy staff.
The assertion was true,
and there was worse to come.
Time and again during
of duty in Honduras from 1981 to 1985, Negroponte was confronted with
evidence that a Honduran army intelligence unit, trained by the CIA,
stalking, kidnapping, torturing and killing suspected subversives.
investigation by The
Sun, which included interviews with U.S. and Honduran officials who
could not have spoken freely at the time, shows that Negroponte learned
numerous sources about the crimes of the unit called Battalion 316.
The Honduran press was
reports about military abuses, including hundreds of newspaper stories
in 1982 alone. There were also direct pleas from Honduran officials to
officials, including Negroponte.
A disgruntled former
intelligence chief publicly denounced Battalion 316. Relatives of the
battalion's victims demonstrated in the streets and appealed to U.S.
for intervention, including once in an open letter to President
Reagan's presidential envoy to Central America.
Rick Chidester, then a
political officer in the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, told The Sun that
he compiled substantial evidence of abuses by the Honduran military in
but was ordered to delete most of it from the annual human rights
report prepared for the State Department to deliver to Congress.
consistently misled Congress and the public.
"There are no political
prisoners in Honduras," the State Department asserted falsely in its
1983 human rights report.
The reports to Congress
carefully crafted to convey the impression that the Honduran government
and military were committed to democratic ideals.
It was important not to
confront Congress with evidence that the military was trampling on
civil liberties and murdering dissidents. The truth could have
action under the Foreign Assistance Act, which generally prohibits
military aid to any government that "engages in a consistent pattern of
gross violations of internationally recognized human rights."
Fact vs. fiction
A comparison of the
human rights reports prepared while Negroponte was ambassador with the
facts as they were then known shows that Congress was deliberately
peasant, and other interest groups have full freedom to organize and
hold frequent public demonstrations without interference. ... Trade
are not hindered by the government."
-- State Department
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1982
Fact: Highly publicized
abductions of students and union leaders that year included:
teacher and union activist, abducted July 22, 1982; Eduardo Lanza,
medical student and general secretary of the Honduran Federation of
Students, kidnapped Aug. 1, 1982; German Perez Aleman, leader of an
airport maintenance workers union, abducted Aug. 18, 1982; Hector
Hernandez, president of a textile workers union, abducted Dec. 24, 1982.
All are still missing
and presumed dead.
exist against arbitrary arrest or imprisonment, and against torture or
degrading treatment. Habeas corpus is guaranteed by the Constitution,
Honduran law provides for arraignment within 24 hours of arrest. This
appears to be the standard practice."
Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1982
Fact: "The court got so
petitions of habeas corpus. But whenever we sent them to the police,
the police would say they did not have the prisoners," Rumaldo Iries
Calix, a justice of the Supreme Court in 1982, said in an interview
with The Sun. "They had moved the prisoners to some secret jail. It was
like a game to them."
The experience of
Velasquez was typical. Her brother, Manfredo, a 35-year-old graduate
student, teacher and political activist, was abducted by Battalion 316
on Sept. 12,
1981, and has not been seen since.
Zenaida Velasquez filed
corpus petitions on her brother's behalf on Sept. 17, 1981, Feb. 6,
1982, and July 4, 1983, asking that he be brought before a court and
"It didn't do any good
at all," she said.
Assertion: "There have
reports in the press and by local sources of the use of torture by
local police forces during interrogation. Honduran officials assert
that it is a
common practice for persons held in connection with politically
motivated crimes to allege that they were tortured during the
investigation and interrogation process."
"The Honduran armed
chief, Gustavo Alvarez, recently issued a public statement denying that
the government used torture and specifically stated that torture was
be used on prisoners."
-- State Department
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1982
Fact: Alvarez had made
to Ambassador Negroponte's predecessor, Jack Binns, that he intended to
use Argentine-style, "extra-legal" means to eliminate suspected
subversives. Battalion 316 was created largely for this purpose.
According to Florencio
Caballero, a former sergeant in Battalion 316, Alvarez demanded torture
as "the quickest way to get information."
In one highly
of torture and intimidation, human rights attorney Rene Velasquez (no
relation to Manfredo) was arrested on June 1, 1982, in front of his law
in Tegucigalpa and taken to a secret jail where he was kept for four
"They undressed me,
my hands and they put a rubber mask over my face," he said. "They put
something on me to attract flies, because those were my
companions for four days.
"I was beaten a lot,"
Rene Velasquez said. "They hit me in the ribs and stomach. ... I could
barely endure the pain."
Assertion: "Access to
is generally not a problem for relatives, attorneys, consular officers
or international humanitarian organizations."
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1982
Fact: Not only were
access, dozens of relatives of the "disappeared" told The Sun, but
police would not even tell them if or where their relatives were being
Fidelina Perez and
Mendez visited every police station in Tegucigalpa after finding out
that their sons, who were student leaders, had been arrested on a bus
as it crossed
the border from Nicaragua on Jan. 24, 1982.
Their sons have not
been seen since and are presumed dead.
"[The police] all said
no information. They had not seen them," Perez said. "The police told
us to go and look for them in Cuba or Nicaragua."
Said Mendez: "They told
us, why did we keep looking for them when they were already dead?"
Assertion: "Sanctity of
the home is guaranteed by the Constitution and generally observed."
-- State Department
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1982.
Fact: Raids of homes
warrants were common in Honduras. The military stormed neighborhoods in
search of Communist safe houses.
"They would burst into
people who were completely innocent and search for evidence," said
Honduran journalist Noe Leyva. "Sometimes if they found Marxist
books or pamphlets, they would arrest the resident without any warrant.
It was ridiculous."
Leyva, now an editor at
the Honduran newspaper El Tiempo, reported on human rights abuses for
that newspaper in the early 1980s.
In July 1982, Oscar
prominent journalist, was seized from his home along with his wife in
an illegal raid. Upon their release from prison, the Reyeses found
Assertion: "In rare
which members of the security forces have been accused of murder, the
government has brought the perpetrators to justice."
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1983
Fact: "I don't recall
one case of that," said Edmundo Orellana, the Honduran attorney general.
Rumaldo Iries Calix,
Honduran Supreme Court justice, said charges sometimes would be brought
against low-level officers, but that the cases were always dismissed.
"No judge dared to
military official," Iries said. "There was so much repression against
anyone who opposed the military."
Assertion: "There are
political prisoners in Honduras. Individuals are prosecuted not for
their political beliefs but rather for criminal acts defined in the
-- State Department
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1983
Fact: Orellana, who is
investigating the disappearances of Battalion 316's victims, shakes his
head in amazement at that assertion.
"This is totally
said. "There were political prisoners, and the disappeared are the
proof. They followed, arrested and executed people who just thought
One senator who was
the time as a member of the Senate intelligence committee describes
what difference it might have made if the human rights reporting had
"I think its extremely
important that the State Department be right on human rights, said Sen.
Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat. "If we told the truth about
and the whole Central American policy, ... billions of American tax
dollars would have been saved, a large number of lives would have been
saved, and the governments would have moved toward democracy quicker."
Negroponte, now U.S.
to the Philippines, has declined repeated requests by telephone and in
writing since July for interviews about this report. However, on
after publication of three parts of The Sun's series, he issued a
"Under my leadership,
embassy worked to promote the restoration and consolidation of
democracy in Honduras, including the advancement of human rights."
He added, "At no time
tenure in Honduras did the embassy condone or conceal human rights
violations. To the contrary, the embassy and the State Department
with the government of Honduras to help remedy recognized deficiencies
in the administration of justice."
Negroponte's arrival in
Honduras coincided with the Reagan administration's decision to reduce
the emphasis that the Carter administration had put on rights issues in
The new policy had been
clear to Negroponte's predecessor, Ambassador Binns, a Carter
appointee, after he repeatedly warned of human rights abuses by the
In a June 1981 cable
obtained by The Sun, Binns reported:
"I am deeply concerned
increasing evidence of officially sponsored/sanctioned assassinations
of political and criminal targets, which clearly indicate [Government
Honduras] repression has built up a head of steam much faster than we
The reaction was swift
unexpected. Binns was summoned to Washington by Thomas O. Enders, the
new assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs.
"I was told to stop
rights reporting except in back channel. The fear was that if it came
into the State Department, it will leak," Binns recalled. "They
wanted to keep assistance flowing. Increased violations by the Honduran
military would prejudice that."
"Back channel" messages
unofficial or informal communications, often in code, sent outside the
usual distribution system to restrict circulation of information.
Enders confirmed the
1981 meeting with Binns.
"I told him that
rights violations had been the single most important focus of the
previous administration's policy in Latin America, the Reagan
had broader interests," Enders said. "It believed that the most
effective way to overcome civil conflicts and human rights violations
was to promote democratically elected governments and that should be
point of focus."
Ample evidence of abuses
There was nothing rare
about the evidence of military abuses that confronted Negroponte from
the time he took over as ambassador in November 1981.
In 1982, his first full
year in Honduras, more than 300 articles in the local press included:
nxAn account in
February of the discovery of five bodies in a makeshift grave in Las
Montanitas, 15 miles outside Tegucigalpa.
* An account in April
of the illegal arrest of six university students.
* A story in September
union members marching through Tegucigalpa to demand the release of one
of their leaders abducted a month earlier.
* Another story in
about dozens of children protesting the disappearances outside the
Honduran Congress as it considered forming a committee to investigate
"There is no way United
officials in Honduras during the early 1980s can deny they knew about
the disappearances," said Jaime Rosenthal, a former vice president of
Honduras and owner of the daily newspaper El Tiempo. "There were
stories about it in our newspaper and most other newspapers almost
"[The United States]
embassy staff here that was larger than most other embassies in Latin
America," Rosenthal said. "If they say they did not know, that is
bad, because it would mean they were incompetent."
Evidence came from
Arrivillaga, then a
delegate in the Honduran Congress and a voice of dissent in the
prevailing atmosphere of intimidation, said he spoke several times to
about the military's human rights abuses.
Diaz said that in
the U.S. Embassy and at social occasions, he rebuked Negroponte for the
U.S. government's refusal to take a stand against the repression.
The Honduran legislator
Negroponte reproached him for refusing to take a strong stand against
Communists who were trying to seize control of Honduras.
"I remember Negroponte
'You and others, what you are proposing is to let communism take over
this country and over the region,' " Diaz said.
"The most important
him was to win public support for the presence of the U.S. military in
Honduras," Diaz said. "Their [the U.S.] attitude was one of
tolerance and silence. They needed Honduras to loan its territory more
than they were concerned about innocent people being killed."
Accusations against the
military also came from former insiders.
In August 1982, Col.
Torres Arias, ousted chief of intelligence for the Honduran military,
issued a public warning about Battalion 316. In a news conference in
City, he told reporters about "a death squad operating in Honduras led
by armed forces chief General Gustavo Alvarez."
The story made
Mexico and across Central America. A reporter from the Honduran
newspaper El Tiempo asked Negroponte about the colonel's allegations.
Said Negroponte in an
that appeared Oct. 16, 1982: "Democracy is being consolidated in this
country. The armed forces have supported that process. It was the armed
forces that turned over power to the civilian constitutional leaders of
Honduras. So, I have a lot of difficulty taking those kinds of
The evidence was also
to be found in the streets of Tegucigalpa.
Each week, hundreds
through the streets of the capital demanding the release of the
disappeared. Sometimes they marched past the U.S. Embassy, a hulking
concrete complex on
La Paz Avenue.
The Committee of the
of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) turned to the U.S. government
for help. On June 13, 1983, COFADEH addressed an open letter to Richard
President Reagan's special envoy to Central America, complaining that
the Honduran military was holding dissidents in clandestine jails.
"More than 40 people
illegally arrested and tortured," the letter said. "Some have never
been heard from since their arrest."
The letter was
published in El
Tiempo, one of the largest newspapers in Honduras. The U.S. government
never responded to the committee's pleas.
In an interview, Stone
said that he did not recall the letter.
Spurned at the
In October 1983,
COFADEH visited the U.S. Embassy to ask for help. They said they met
with Scott Thayer, a junior political officer assigned to monitor human
Among the relatives who attended was Bertha Oliva, whose husband, Tomas
Nativi, had been missing for more than two years.
Also there was Zenaida
Velasquez, whose brother, Manfredo, had been missing for more than two
The parents of Eduardo
attended. Lanza, a medical student, had been a prominent student leader
when he was kidnapped by Battalion 316 in August 1982.
The group told Thayer
had searched jails and hospitals across Honduras for their missing
relatives, that military officials only laughed at them and that judges
afraid to help. They begged the embassy to use its influence with
Honduran officials to win their relatives' freedom.
remembers that Thayer listened politely, then dismissed their
"He said he knew
Honduras had a
democratic government and [that] those kinds of practices were not
going on," Velasquez said. "They were such a bunch of liars it was
Thayer, now a political
at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, Spain, said that meeting with Hondurans
about human rights abuses "was part of my job. I recall having meetings
like that, but I can't recall that specific meeting."
Oliva still fumes over
meeting. In an interview in Tegucigalpa, she said that the embassy
official acted as if they were fabricating the disappearances of their
"He was very cold, very
cold," she said, pursing her lips. "Any kindness was gone. He did not
even smile at us."
Roberto Becerra, father
of the student Eduardo Lanza, said he came away from the meeting with a
"We felt like we were
screaming in the desert. No one heard us. No one would help us."
In at least one case,
Negroponte was confronted with evidence of abuse that he could not
ignore -- the arrest and torture in July 1982 of journalist Oscar Reyes
and his wife,
Reyes, a founder of the
journalism school at the National Autonomous University of Honduras,
was openly sympathetic to the Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua and had
newspaper columns criticizing the Honduran military.
The abduction of the
sparked newspaper stories and raucous student protests. The Reyeses
said they were locked in a secret cell for a week, and beaten and
At the U.S. Embassy,
fear that if the story got to the United States it might damage
carefully assembled public support for the Central America program
operating out of
Cresencio S. Arcos,
then the embassy press spokesman, alerted Negroponte that the Honduran
military had abducted the Reyeses.
"If they do this guy,
we're in trouble," Arcos warned. "We cannot let this guy get hurt. ...
It would be a disaster for our policy.
"The ambassador did
approach [General] Alvarez about this to manifest his concern," Arcos
The case clearly shows
Negroponte knew of the Reyeses' abduction and that the ambassador acted
in such cases when he felt compelled to do so.
Reyes and his wife were
released from the clandestine jail after a week. They were taken before
a public court and sentenced to six months in prison. Two weeks before
sentences ended, they were allowed to leave for the United States on
condition that they keep quiet about the torture they endured.
That condition was laid
down personally by Alvarez, said the Reyeses, who now live in Vienna,
The U.S. Embassy also
quiet publicly about the Reyes case. It was not mentioned in the human
rights report for 1982, even though it was widely covered in the
and illustrated the Honduran military's violation of human rights on
several counts: illegal abduction, secret incarceration, torture and
suppression of press freedom.
Instead, the 1982
report asserted: "No incident of official interference with the media
has been recorded for several years."
Inside the embassy
Negroponte's aides at
embassy told The Sun that they knew about serious human rights abuses
by the Honduran military, and that the violence was a subject of
One of those aides was
political officer, Rick Chidester, who was assigned in 1982 to gather
information for the embassy's annual report on human rights, a task
usually fell to a junior officer.
Chidester, now 43 and a
businessman, said that while in Honduras, he interviewed human rights
advocates and journalists who provided him with information that the
military was illegally detaining, torturing and executing people.
"I had allegations
coming up to police cells and taking out people they [the Honduran
military] didn't want ... and shooting them," Chidester said. "I had
allegations that, as part of the interrogation techniques, torture was
He said he included the
allegations in his draft of the 1982 report.
A supervisor, who
will not name, demanded proof -- sworn testimony or photographs of
torture victims. Chidester said he was admonished for basing his report
when he was unable to produce such evidence.
Chidester said he
while he had not interviewed torture victims, the allegations came from
too many credible sources to be ignored, and that the reports were not
supposed to be limited to provable facts.
"While the State
not an investigative body, we're supposed to analyze political events
and identify trends," Chidester said. "Our analysis is valuable,
even if based on opinion and not admissible as proof in a court of law."
His arguments failed.
By the time the report
the U.S. Congress, the serious accusations against the Honduran
military had been removed. Allegations that remained were described as
unsubstantiated or as isolated abuses that had been dealt with swiftly
by the Honduran government.
Overall, the report
Honduras as an emerging democracy where the civilian government and
military respected human rights.
The report was such a
misrepresentation of the facts that Chidester recalls joking with
others in the embassy: "What is this, the human rights report for
While Negroponte has
be interviewed by The Sun, his boss at the time of his appointment to
Honduras described the priorities on human rights.
Thomas Enders, the
secretary of state who told Negroponte's predecessor to stop reporting
rights violations through normal channels, said it was crucial to keep
flowing to Honduras.
"What we were
attempting to do
was, on the one hand, to maintain our ability to act in Central
America. That is, our congressional authority to send economic and
so we avoided direct public confrontations against the military in El
Salvador and Honduras," he said.
"And at the same time,
privately we were spending an enormous amount of effort in order to
change the way they looked at how they behaved. There was endless
Instead of telling
what was going on in Central America, the Reagan administration
employed the State Department human rights reports as instruments to
Consequently, the human
rights reports differed sharply in tone, depending on wheth-er the
government was a friend or foe.
The 1982 report on
where the United States was trying to topple the Marxist Sandinista
regime -- made strong charges against that government.
A section titled
the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from Killing" said:
"There is credible evidence that security forces have been
responsible for the death of a number of detained persons in 1982."
In the same section of
Honduras report for 1982, the State Department said: "Allegations that
death squads have made their appearance in Honduras have not been
Cresencio Arcos, press
spokes-man in the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa from June 1980 to July
1985 and U.S. ambassador from December 1989 to July 1993, explained the
"Invariably, the result
in this process was to magnify your enemies' misdeeds and minimize your
friends' misdeeds," he said.
numerous public statements praising the Honduran military for
supporting the civilian government and for respecting the rights of its
In a letter to the New
Times, published on Sept. 12, 1982, he wrote: "Honduras' increasingly
professional armed forces are dedicated to defending the sovereignty
territorial integrity of the country, and they are publicly committed
to civilian constitutional rule."
In October 1982, he
The Economist: "Honduras' increasingly professional armed forces are
fully supportive of this country's constitutional system."
That was the same year
journalist Oscar Reyes and his wife were abducted and tortured by the
Honduran military for a week because of articles he had written.
On Aug. 12, 1983, the
Angeles Times published a Negroponte column in which he acknowledged
that there were ""credible allegations of some disappearances."
However, he added:
"There is no
indication that the infrequent human rights violations that do occur
are part of deliberate government policy. Indeed, disciplinary action
been taken against members of the police and military (including
officers) who have abused their authority."
That year, in a case
gained notoriety, the 24-year-old leftist Ines Consuelo Murillo was
held for more than 11 weeks -- naked, beaten, suffocated, shocked,
threatened with rape.
To this day, none of
her torturers has been punished.
Arcos said that
Negroponte privately expressed concerns about abuses to Honduran
"The ambassador did
pressure the Hondurans. Not publicly. Quietly," Arcos said.
"We were concerned by
the issue. Reports [of human rights abuses] were increasing."
Even years after he
Honduras, Negroponte would not publicly acknowledge the crimes of
kidnapping, torture and murder that were committed by the Honduran
During his Senate
Relations Committee confirmation hearing as ambassador to Mexico in
1989, Negroponte was asked about Battalion 316 and its abuses.
"I have never seen any
convincing substantiation that they were involved in death squad-type
activities," he said.