The Miami Herald
July 28, 2001

Man INS deported pleads guilty

Suspect in abuse sneaked into U.S.


 Juan Angel Hernández Lara, one of the first suspected human rights violators deported by the United States under a new program, pleaded guilty Friday to sneaking back into the country after a federal judge declined to hear evidence that he would be persecuted if returned again to his native Honduras.

 Hernández Lara, who has admitted being a member of a CIA-trained unit implicated in the murders of 184 leftist dissidents but has denied torturing or killing people, will be sentenced in October to up to two years in federal prison. Then the Immigration and Naturalization Service plans to deport him again.

 The case is the first to reach federal court since the INS began detaining alleged human rights abusers last year. Human rights activists had hoped a trial would shed light on the activities of the CIA-trained Battalion 3-16 to which Hernández Lara belonged.

 Some human rights advocates have raised questions about what role the U.S. ambassador in Honduras at the time, John Negroponte, played in the operation of the group and its alleged human rights abuses. President Bush has nominated Negroponte to be his ambassador to the United Nations, and the Senate is gearing up for
confirmation hearings.

 Negroponte has denied condoning human rights abuses by the Honduran military, insisting all along that he worked quietly behind the scenes to improve human rights
 conditions in the country.

 U.S. District Judge Wilkie Ferguson preempted the option of exploring Battalion 3-16 activities and Hernández Lara's fears of being returned home. At a case status
 conference in court in May, Ferguson told Hernández Lara's attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Celeste Higgins, that evidence about her client's military-related background would not be admissible.

 Hernández Lara's attorney had planned to investigate the background to show that her client's membership in Battalion 3-16 would have been enough to put his life or freedom in danger if returned home.

 According to a lawyer familiar with Hernández Lara's case, his attorney was prepared to send investigators to Honduras to gather evidence and find witnesses.

 When the judge said he would not admit evidence about the human rights allegations, Higgins said Friday, her client decided not to go forward with a trial and to instead plead guilty to returning to the United States illegally after being deported.

 ``It was clear that the judge considered that any motive for the defendant's return was not relevant to the charge and that the jury would not be permitted to consider it,'' Higgins said shortly after Hernández Lara pleaded guilty.

 INS officials welcomed Hernández Lara's guilty plea.

 ``We hope that this case sends a strong message to these persecutors that they will be prosecuted if they also try to reenter after deportation,'' said INS spokeswoman Maria Elena Garcia.

 Rolando García, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, told the judge he was ready to present evidence that Hernández Lara violated U.S. law by disregarding a written warning from the INS agent who deported him, Frank Parodi, when Parodi escorted the defendant back to Honduras in January.

 García said the warning instructed Hernández Lara not to return to the United States unless he first secured the consent of the U.S. attorney general.

 Hernández Lara, García said, ignored the warning and within days was heading back to the United States. Hernández Lara waded across the Rio Grande near
 Brownsville, Texas, only a few days after being deported.

 He was rearrested by Parodi in West Palm Beach in March. He had returned to West Palm Beach because his family lives there.

 Hernández Lara was found as a result of a tip from Richard Krieger, head of the Boynton Beach-based human rights group International Educational Missions, who seeks to rid the United States of foreign nationals accused of committing human rights atrocities.

 Hernández Lara is one of 29 suspected human rights abusers arrested in Florida for deportation by the INS since last year when the service began its ``persecutor''
 detention program.

 His deportation in January marked a radical shift in post-Cold War U.S. policy toward Latin America.

 The CIA trained Hernández Lara's outfit to protect the security of U.S. forces and the CIA-financed Contra rebels who were fighting the Sandinistas in neighboring
 Nicaragua from bases in Honduras in the 1980s.

 But Battalion 3-16 eventually evolved into a death squad.

 It was blamed for the abduction and assassination of at least 184 leftist guerrillas, sympathizers and other political foes.

 The group has since been disbanded.

                                    © 2001 The Miami Herald