The Miami Herald
January 19, 2001

INS enforces new policy, deports ex-Honduran officer


 A former Honduran army intelligence officer who confessed to kidnapping, killing
 and torturing guerrillas opposed to the Honduran government in the 1980s has
 been deported, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service announced

 Local INS officials believe that Juan Angel Hernández Lara, who allegedly was a
 member of what human rights activists described as a virtual death squad, is the
 first former Latin American military officer deported under a new U.S. program to
 target foreigners believed to be human rights violators -- a historic change in
 official American attitudes toward the hemisphere.

 Previously, suspected military or paramilitary human rights violators might have
 been shielded because they were deemed allies in the fight against communism.
 But experts on U.S. hemispheric policies said the end of the Cold War and the
 rise of globalization have made it possible for the United States to abandon
 unsavory security officials who traditionally looked to the United States for
 protection and even asylum.

 That era symbolically drew to a close with the deportation to Honduras
 Wednesday of Hernández Lara, 37, allegedly a veteran member of a Honduran
 army intelligence unit known as Battalion 316. Hernández Lara lived in
 Miami-Dade County, according to INS officials, although public records indicated
 he had addresses in Palm Beach County. Newspaper reporters in Honduras
 familiar with the case said Hernández Lara lived in South Florida with a wife or
 girlfriend with whom he had children.

 Bill West, an INS supervisory special agent and chief of the special investigations
 section, said two INS enforcement agents escorted Hernández Lara back to the
 Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa aboard a commercial airliner. He was expected
 to be taken into custody in Honduras, West said.

 An official of the Honduran foreign ministry said his government had no immediate
 comment on the case. Carlos Girón, a reporter for Diario La Prensa -- one of
 Honduras' leading newspapers -- said Hernández Lara appeared in court in
 Tegucigalpa on Thursday and denied being a member of Battalion 316.

 ``We were told that Mr. Hernández Lara told prosecutors that he made that up
 just to get asylum in the United States,'' Girón said. He also said that Hernández
 Lara did not appear to be in custody but that authorities were monitoring his
 movements in the country.

 INS officials would not comment on the geopolitical and philosophical dimensions
 of the case. But they acknowledged that the Hernández Lara case marked the
 high point so far of a new effort by the United States to find human rights violators.

 ``He was a precursor,'' said Dan Vara, chief legal officer for the INS's Miami
 district. ``He is the first national returned to his country from the Miami district
 under a national concentrated and dedicated effort to identify human rights

 According to an INS statement released in Miami, Hernández Lara ``admitted to
 personally torturing and participating in the killing of guerrillas and their

 Under oath, the statement said, Hernández Lara also ``admitted to participation in
 a group held responsible for the forced disappearance and killings of 184 people.''

 The INS statement added that Hernández Lara ``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.''

 First detained in June, Hernández Lara was sent to the Krome Detention Center
 in western Miami-Dade County while awaiting deportation procedures.

 In November, 14 additional foreign nationals were rounded up under Operation
 Home Run -- a special program to identify, detain and deport former members of
 military, paramilitary or security organizations suspected of or charged with
 human rights abuses in their home countries.

 The 14 are still awaiting deportation, INS officials in Miami said. The INS said
 these people came from Angola, Haiti and Peru.

 Hernández Lara entered the United States illegally through the Mexican border at
 Brownsville, Texas, in 1989. At the time a bodyguard for a former Honduran
 general, Hernández Lara fled to the United States fearing arrest in his home
 country, the INS said.

 He filed petition for political asylum and was allowed into the country.
 Subsequently, he moved to South Florida, INS officials said.

 He was arrested in June.

 Battalion 316, a Honduran intelligence unit, allegedly kidnapped and executed
 dozens of suspected leftists in the early to mid-1980s, when members of the
 Honduran military were involved in the Reagan administration's war against the
 Marxist Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua.

 Experts on U.S. policies toward Latin America said the collapse of the Soviet
 Union and the subsequent end of the Cold War made it easier for Washington to
 stop coddling anti-communist human rights violators.

 ``The United States would not have done this before, because it would have
 complicated the Central America strategy,'' said Nancy Birdsall, a senior
 associate and regional expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
 in Washington, D.C. ``Now we have risen above these issues and we're able to
 transcend the kind of political and military problems that we were mired in during
 the Cold War.''