The Miami Herald
April 16, 2001

 Alleged death squad returns to spotlight


 When the CIA trained Battalion 3-16 in the 1980s, the Honduran army unit's main mission was to gather intelligence to protect its national security as U.S. forces
 deployed to support rebels fighting the Sandinistas in neighboring Nicaragua.

 But today, Battalion 3-16 is remembered as a veritable death squad -- blamed for the abduction and assassination of at least 184 leftist guerrillas, sympathizers and other
 political foes.

 Though long since disbanded, the group's legacy lives on in a West Palm Beach federal courtroom and in the stories of men such as Juan Angel Hernández Lara and
 other Honduran officers believed to be hiding in South Florida and elsewhere in the nation.

 On Friday, Hernández Lara, 38, pleaded not guilty in West Palm Beach to charges he returned illegally to the United States after being deported Jan. 17 over allegations
 he participated in the torture of some of the battalion's victims.

 His trial later this year may shed more light on the activities of 3-16 and refocus attention on a legacy from the Cold War: the role the Reagan Administration might have
 played in training the unit's operatives, as well as their subsequent alleged involvement in abductions and assassinations.

 The questions have assumed new relevance as the Senate considers President Bush's nomination of John D. Negroponte as ambassador to the United Nations.
 Negroponte was ambassador in Honduras at the time Battalion 3-16 operated.

 He has denied condoning human rights violations, insisting he worked in favor of improving respect for human rights in Honduras.

 The now infamous Battalion 3-16 was formed in 1981 by Gen. Gustavo Alvarez, a former chief of Honduran armed forces. Alvarez first recruited Argentine intelligence
 experts to train Battalion members.

 But as the Reagan administration built up an anti-Sandinista rebel force in Honduras, it became interested in 3-16.

 Richard Stolz, then CIA deputy director for operations, told Congress in 1988 the agency trained battalion members in the use of psychological pressure in interrogation
 techniques -- not physical abuse. The testimony was reported in The (Baltimore) Sun, which in 1995 published a series of articles on Battalion 3-16 based on declassified

 In 1984, Alvarez was ousted in a barracks coup. After his departure, Battalion 3-16 began to disband and its members left for the United States and Canada.

 Alvarez himself spent time in Miami, but he returned to Honduras in 1988. On Jan. 25, 1989, gunmen shot and killed him in Tegucigalpa.

 Hernández Lara fled Honduras in 1988. He told the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service before his Jan. 17, 2001, deportation that he had personally tortured at
 least four people who were ultimately murdered.

 ``He provided details of his actions, which involved kicking, punching, placing pins under the fingernails and plastic bags on the heads of four victims who were later killed,''
 said an INS statement.


 Back in Honduras following his deportation, Hernández Lara said he made up the torture stories to bolster his asylum claim with the INS -- though he did admit having
 belonged to Battalion 3-16.

 Within a week of the deportation, Hernández Lara made his way back to West Palm Beach, where he had lived for 11 years laying bricks and building driveways.

 INS agents nabbed him March 28, acting on a tip from South Florida human rights activist Richard Krieger whose organization -- International Educational Missions --
 advocates detaining and deporting foreign nationals accused of torture or war crimes.

 At his bond hearing in federal court two weeks ago, Hernández Lara's attorney said her client returned illegally because he fears being killed in his homeland.

 ``It's clear he doesn't want to go back to his native country,'' Assistant Federal Public Defender Celeste Higgins told U.S. Magistrate Linnea Johnson. ``If he returns, his
 life would be in danger.''

 Johnson denied bond after Assistant U.S. Attorney Rolando García called Hernández Lara a ``flight risk'' and ``danger to the community.'' García said Hernández Lara was
 not only a suspected human rights violator in Honduras but also an illegal alien with a criminal record in the United States. According to García, Hernández Lara's criminal
 convictions include a prior deportation in 1988, shoplifting in 1991 and battery on his wife in 1992.

 Hernández Lara was the first alleged human rights violator deported from the United States under a new INS program targeting ``persecutors'' -- people accused of
 kidnapping, killing or torturing political foes of regimes abroad. At least 14 other alleged persecutors from Angola, Haiti and Peru have been detained and some have been
 deported after Hernández Lara was first arrested in June.


 Hernández Lara is the second alleged Battalion 3-16 member forced to leave the United States. Gen. Luís Alonso Discua, a former Honduran armed forces chief and
 former commander of the unit, left Miami Feb. 28 after the State Department revoked his diplomatic visa.

 He had been secretly living in northwest Miami-Dade and managing an export-import business. The State Department said that was in violation of his diplomatic visa,
 which required he live in the New York area where he was assigned to the Honduran mission to the United Nations.

 Discua and Hernández Lara may not be the last 3-16 members in the country. A former Honduran military officer said at least one other former member is believed to be
 living in South Florida: Col. Juan Evangelista López Grijalva.

 López Grijalva was once head of the Honduran secret police and a key operative. U.S. officials said López Grijalva entered the United States in the 1980s on a diplomatic

 Law enforcement sources said several former members may have sneaked in from Canada after officials there enacted a law last year providing for prosecution of human
 rights violators. A similar bill was introduced in the U.S. Congress this past week by Reps. Mark Foley, R-Fla., and Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y.

 The Anti-Atrocity Alien Deportation Act would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act making illegal aliens who have committed torture or war crimes abroad
 inadmissible and deportable.

 ``If you don't do something to show these people they are unworthy to live in society and be accepted in society, all you're doing is saying to other potential perpetrators
 `It's all right to do it again,' '' said Krieger, a former Nazi hunter. ``The goal is to prevent future atrocities. The message is never again.''

 Herald staff researcher Elisabeth Donovan contributed to this report.

 © 2001