General may hold answers on nominee
Los Angeles Times Service
UNITED NATIONS -- If questions remain about the role in Honduras of John D. Negroponte, President Bush's nominee for U.N. ambassador, there is one person who could know the answers: Gen. Luis Alonso Discua Elvir, a founder of the paramilitary group Battalion 3-16.
Honduran President Carlos Roberto Reina sent Discua to the United Nations in 1996, in part to give the general diplomatic immunity from investigations into the battalion's past -- and in part to protect himself from a feared military coup.
Discua's title was deputy representative, and he reportedly was paid about $6,000 a month -- more than the actual ambassador. But he seemed to spend most of his time living in Miami, where he owned several houses and operated an import-export business.
Periodically, human rights groups protested his assignment, the outrage tempered only by the fact that he rarely bothered to act as a diplomat.
In January, a Florida-based human rights group, the International Educational Missions, received a tip about Discua's presence in Miami. The head of the group, Richard Krieger, a former government official, sent a letter to the State Department on Jan. 12 with the details.
In February -- three weeks before Negroponte's name was floated as a possible U.N. ambassador -- the State Department revoked Discua's diplomatic visa for his failure to fulfill his ambassadorial duties. He was out of the country by month's end.
State Department officials said that they had been aware of Discua's controversial posting since he arrived in the United States, and that he spent more than a fair share of time in Miami. While pleased that the system worked so efficiently, officials said privately that the speed of his removal was unprecedented.
"My colleagues and I could not fathom how it could work so easily,'' said a State Department official who asked not to be named. "If you're inclined toward conspiracy theories, the fact that it did work so quickly raises some questions.''
Discua's removal coincided with the January deportation of Juan Angel Hernández Lara, another alleged member of Battalion 3-16 living in Florida, and the expulsion from Canada on Feb. 20 of José Barrera, an interrogator from Battalion 3-16.
Both had given detailed descriptions of their activities as members of Battalion 3-16 in attempts to receive political asylum, asserting that they would be killed if they were to return to Honduras now that the political climate has changed.
Although Hernández Lara and Barrera recanted their claims that they were involved in 3-16 once they returned to Honduras, Discua Elvir defiantly elaborated on his history in the battalion and the U.S. role in it.
Two days after returning home, Discua told the Tegucigalpa newspaper La Prensa that he was brought to the United States for two months in 1983 to organize Battalion 3-16 to work with Nicaraguan contra forces. He also has appeared on television in full uniform with promises of more to tell. Discua is protected by his knowledge of other Honduran leaders' involvement in past crimes, human rights groups say.
"He is sending an explicit message to the United States: If they continue to do damage to him, he will disclose the role of the U.S. in Battalion 3-16 and the situation of that time,'' said Berta Oliva di Nativi, the director of a group representing the families of "the disappeared.''