Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

HONDURAS-U.S.: ‘We Never Imagined the Extent of CIA Participation’

Thelma Mejia

TEGUCIGALPA, Jun 26 1995 (IPS) - Human rights groups were shocked at recent revelations by a U.S. daily of the extent of the direct interference of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the politically motivated “disappearance” of 184 Hondurans in the 1980s.

According to reports to which the daily Baltimore Sun had access, the CIA not only trained Honduran death squads, but actively participated in torturing people who had been forcibly disappeared.

The daily, which recently published a series of four articles on the phenomenon of disappearances in Honduras, presented information that reveals the extent of CIA influence in the Central American country, that up to now had been kept secret.

“We never imagined the extent of CIA participation in the cases of disappeared people,” Ramon Custodio, president of the non-governmental Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Honduras (CODEH), told IPS.

“We had signs of it, but we never thought the link was so direct and humiliating, confirming that these men not only hurt the image of our country, but also used it as a political-military and socio-pathological base.”

Custodio and several local analysts said CIA involvement in Honduras will have stronger repercussions than its participation in the abduction and alleged murder of Guatemalan guerrilla leader Efrain Bamaca in 1992.

Death squads, paramilitary groups largely made up of off-duty members of security forces, operated in a number of Latin American countries in the 1970s and 1980s.

The phenomenon was particularly prevalent in Central America, where thousands of disappearances and deaths have been attributed to these groups.

The death squads worked in close cooperation with security forces, targeting individuals and groups deemed “subversive.”

In local government circles, it is said that Washington committed its worst foreign policy error in Honduras, second only to the Vietnam war.

According to the president of CODEH, in Honduras the United States attempted to correct the errors it committed in Vietnam, “by applying the doctrine of low-intensity conflict and a dirty war, far more advanced than the national security doctrine itself.”

Survivors of the wave of repression that broke out in the 1980s give testimony of a cruel silent war waged in Honduras, which nobody wants to discuss.

Not only the CIA and the Honduran armed forces participated in that war, but also members of the Argentine military and Israeli mercenaries. The latter are mentioned in the book “Merchants of Death” by Edgar Torres, a correspondent with the Spanish daily ‘El Mundo’.

Winner of several international awards, Torres tells that Israeli mercenaries arrived to Honduras in May 1988 to perfect the torture techniques introduced by the CIA and Argentina’s armed forces.

Under the orders of Yair Klain, the members of that group instructed their “students” in abduction techniques, use of explosives and other terrorist methods, the journalist writes.

The disappearance of 184 people during the 1980s – recognised in a report issued over a year ago by the governmental Human Rights Commission – was part of the so-called Tripartite plan accorded between Honduras, the United States and Argentina.

According to Custodio, the Tripartite was a “cynical” form of political participation by three countries that joined forces to install in Honduras a testing-ground for the fight against communism in Central America.

CODEH officials said CIA participation in these operations was neither “by chance” nor arbitrary, and pointed to evidence that the U.S. Congress was aware of such activity.

In 1982, Ramon Custodio travelled to Washington to denounce to Congress human rights abuses committed in Honduras.

“I spoke with Michel Barns, of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, and gave him proof and evidence. Later U.S. legislators came to the country to verify and to carry out interviews, and even collect testimony from some of the torturers,” he told IPS.

“The (abuses) were committed during the era of President Ronald Reagan (1980-1988),” Custodio said.

The Sun told how U.S. diplomats covered up information on human rights violations in Honduran territory, in order to keep U.S. military aid to the Central American country from being cut off.

John Dimitri Negroponte, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras from 1981- 85, played a key role in covering up information that he argued “hurt” his country’s interest in preserving democracy “at any cost.”

Up to now, the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa has consistently denied that the CIA participated in disappearances and tortures, in spite of the testimony of people who had been involved.

Current U.S. Ambassador Williams Pryce called the accusations “unfounded speculation…We are sure that no American participated in the torture.”

He also denied that Ambassador Negroponte falsified documents: “He is an irreproachable man, and I don’t accept what they say.”

According to one of his subordinates in the embassy, Negroponte was aware of each extrajudicial execution, and justified such acts “for the sake of democracy.” Meanwhile, some Hondurans continue to wonder about their government’s mild reaction to the accusations, and why the Honduran armed forces burned their files on disappeared victims.

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