INS nabs expelled torture suspect
BY ALFONSO CHARDY
A former Honduran army intelligence officer, deported from the United States in mid-January after confessing to kidnapping, killing and torturing opposition guerrillas, was arrested Wednesday in West Palm Beach -- a month after he sneaked back into the country.
Juan Angel Hernández Lara, 37, was arrested as he arrived at the Havana Restaurant near the corner of Forest Hill Boulevard and South Dixie Highway.
Hernández Lara is in the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, awaiting prosecution in federal court on a charge of illegally reentering the country after deportation, said Patricia Mancha, INS spokeswoman in Miami. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison, she said.
The INS acted on a tip from Richard Krieger, head of the Boynton Beach-based human rights organization International Educational Missions. Krieger advocates the detention and deportation of foreign nationals linked to human rights atrocities in their homelands.
Hernández Lara allegedly was a member of a Honduran army intelligence unit known as Battalion 3-16, a group linked to the forced disappearance and killing of scores of political opponents of the Honduran military in the 1980s.
When he was deported Jan. 17, the INS said Hernández Lara acknowledged he had personally tortured and participated in the ``killing of guerrillas and their supporters.''
According to an INS statement, Hernández Lara admitted belonging to a group ``held responsible for the forced disappearences and killings of 184 people'' and the torture of four.
``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,'' the INS statement said.
After arriving back in Honduras, however, Hernández Lara told reporters he made up the stories to improve his chances of receiving asylum.
Precisely how Hernández Lara made his way back to South Florida is unclear, but Mancha said he told investigators that his wife sent him money to return. Sources said Hernández Lara took a bus from Honduras to Mexico and then to the U.S. border near Brownsville, Texas -- the same place where he first entered the United States illegally on Jan. 4, 1989.
Hernández Lara evaded U.S. immigration officers at the border. From Brownsville, he went to South Florida ``by vehicle,'' Mancha said.
Once in South Florida, he returned to the West Palm Beach area, where he had lived for 11 years prior to his January deportation. His last address was on Perry Avenue in Lake Worth, where federal agents first arrested him after an immigration judge ruled he had entered the country illegally.
Hernández Lara was kept at the INS Krome Service Processing Center in west Miami-Dade County from June 2000 until his deportation Jan. 17. He was back there Wednesday after his arrest, Mancha said.
Hernández Lara is the second Battalion 3-16 member to have been officially identified in South Florida. Earlier this month, Gen. Luis Alonso Discua, a former commander of Honduras' armed forces who was linked to the creation of Battalion 3-16, was forced to leave the United States.