INS enforces new policy, deports ex-Honduran officer
BY ALFONSO CHARDY
A former Honduran army intelligence officer who confessed to kidnapping,
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
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
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
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
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
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
Subsequently, he moved to South Florida, INS officials said.
He was arrested in June.
Battalion 316, a Honduran intelligence unit, allegedly kidnapped
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
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.''