chance to aid demilitarization in Honduras
Adam Isacson and Susan Peacock
Wanted": A poster from COFADEH, an organization
of relatives of Honduras' disappeared, demands that military
personnel stand trial for their role in human-rights crimes.
The three officers pictured have chosen to become fugitives
rather than answer a civilian court's summons. "The judge
is still waiting," the poster reads. "And so is jail."
all Central American countries with armies, only Honduras is fortunate
enough to have avoided a civil war during the 1980s. This means, however,
that no peace accord or other postwar commitment obligates the Honduran
military to reform itself.
they lack this leverage, Honduran civilian leadersoften at great
personal riskhave been pressuring for an end to their armed
forces dominance of politics and society. One of the main fronts
in their uphill battle is an unprecedented attempt to prosecute officers
for past human-rights crimes. With testimony from new witnesses and
continuing discoveries of clandestine burial sites, evidence of these
crimes is accumulating. But the militarys resistance to justice
has been stiff and unyielding.
the United States is hindering Honduran civilians efforts. The
U.S. government continues to work actively with its uniformed former
cold-war allies. Meanwhile Honduran government investigators, who
seek human-rights information from U.S. government files, have seen
their declassification requests ignored by the very agencies that
trained and supplied the Honduran military during the worst period
of abuses. Without a change in U.S. policy, a historic opportunity
for democracy to move forward in Hondurasand all of Central
Americawill be lost.
of an army
had no military until 1954. It created one then with assistance and
training from the United States, which at the time was arming its
anti-Communist allies in the region. Two years later, Honduras experienced
its first military coup.
Though the Honduran generals killed fewer of
their fellow citizens compared to their counterparts elsewhere in
cold-war Central America, they were just as anti-democratic. Their
credentials during the early cold war included three coups between
1956 and 1972, endemic corruption, and a tendency to "swallow
up" roles and powers normally reserved to civilians. Repression
of dissentthough not on a par with Somozas Nicaragua and
the military regimes in El Salvador and Guatemalawas common,
especially during the 1960s reign of Col. Oswaldo López Arellano.
early eighties all three countries with which Honduras shares a border
(El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua) were embroiled in full-scale
civil wars. Though it suffered from the same poverty and social division
that afflicted its neighbors, Honduras faced no insurgency of its
own (other than short-lived irregular groups which controlled no territory).
Honduras became the staging ground for U.S. efforts to eradicate insurgencies
in El Salvador and Guatemala and to overthrow Nicaraguas Sandinista
government. U.S. military and intelligence-agency personnel used Honduran
territory as the operational base for the Nicaraguan rebel group they
helped to create (the contras) and for training and resupply
of the Salvadoran and Honduran armed forces.
the Honduran military exploded during the early 1980s. U.S. grants
to the countrys armed forces shot up from $3.9 million in 1980
to $77.4 million in 1984. The number of soldiers more than tripled.
urging, the Honduran military also adhered to the so-called "national
security doctrine." This strategy, prevalent during the cold
war, taught security forces to focus their missions not on external
threats, but on potential internal subversion. Rooting out dissentoften
without regard for the human rights of dissenterswas a high
the fig-leaf of civilian presidents in Honduras throughout the 1980s,
the military retained control of society. Though President Roberto
Suazo and his successors were constitutionally the commanders-in-chief
of the military, few Hondurans held the illusion that they exercised
controlled all aspects of internal security. The national police force,
under military command since 1963, grew increasingly repressive, while
military intelligence servicesnot least among them the feared
National Investigations Directorate (DNI, a secret police of sorts)closely
monitored citizens whom the generals regarded as potential subversives.
early eighties, the ultraconservative General Gustavo Alvarez Martínez
was commander-in-chief of the Honduran armed forces. A notoriously
fanatical and Machiavellian figure, Gen. Alvarez embarked on a systematic
campaign to eliminate all groups advocating change.
Alvarez, a graduate of the Argentine Military Academy, brought Argentine
advisorsfresh from that countrys "dirty war"to
Honduras to train Battalion 316, a military unit specializing in counterintelligence
that more closely resembled a state-run death squad. With surveillance,
kidnapping and torture among its tactics, Battalion 316 spearheaded
the armed forces offensive against all suspected subversives.
Battalion 316 members were responsible for the capture, torture and
"disappearance" of student, labor and popular-movement leaders,
journalists, progressive religious figures, and others.
the 1982 conflict in the Falkland Islands, the Argentine trainers
withdrew from Honduras. They were soon replaced by a group with more
extensive counterinsurgency experience: the U.S. Central
Intelligence Agency. In a landmark series of articles about Battalion
316 published by The Baltimore Sun in
June 1995, former Honduran special-forces officer (and Gen.
Alvarezs nephew) Oscar Alvarez described the transition:
Argentines came in first, and they taught us how to disappear people.
The United States made them more efficient. The Americans ... brought
the equipment. They gave the training in the United States, and
they brought agents here to provide some training in Honduras. They
said, "you need someone to tap phones, you need someone to
transcribe the tapes, you need surveillance groups."
drilled Battalion 316 agents in psychological operations and "human
resource exploitation" techniques. Training included practical
exercises in which actual prisoners were questioned. In declassified
testimony cited by the Sun series, former CIA Deputy Director
for Operations Richard Stolz told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
that "physical abuse or other degrading treatment was rejected."
But the testimony of victims and torturers alike indicates that Battalion
316 used hideously brutal methods against its captives, including
vicious beatings, electric shocks, and rape of female captives.
CIA] said that torture was not the way to obtain the truth about an
interrogation," Florencio Caballero, a former Battalion 316 torturer,
told the Sun. "But [General] Alvarez said the quickest
way to get the information was with torture."
government remained silent as the militarys clampdown grew tighter
and the brutality of its methods increased. The administration was
unwilling to antagonize its uniformed allies by registering disapproval,
while it shared their desire to keep instability within Honduras to
a minimum. As former Honduran Congressman Efraín Díaz told the Sun,
"They needed Honduras to loan its territory more than they were
concerned about innocent people being killed."
States worked closely with Gen. Alvarez, who appeared to be untroubled
by concerns about Honduran sovereignty. As the United States ratcheted
up its presence and operating capacity within Honduras, the military
chiefs deference to U.S. wishes made him an indispensable junior
partner. "Alvarez would agree to anything the United States wanted,"
Gen. Walter López, Alvarezs successor following a barracks coup,
told The New York Times
in 1984. "He was even willing to invade Nicaragua." Donald
Winters, the CIAs station chief in Tegucigalpa at the time,
asked Alvarez to be his adopted daughters godfather.
turned a blind eye to the armys human-rights violations even
when the U.S. ambassador himself reported them. Jack Binns, a Carter
appointee who served as ambassador to Honduras from September 1980
through October 1981, was rebuked by his State Department superiors for continuing
to report the rapid rise in violations that accompanied Battalion
Binns told a May 1997 seminar hosted by the Center for International Policy, the
Reagan State Department made clear its displeasure with his insistence
on reporting human-rights violations. In June 1981, after Binns described
a rash of abuses and recommended a cutoff of military assistance,
he was summoned to Washington by Thomas Enders, the assistant secretary
of state for inter-American affairs. Enders asked Binns to discontinue
his reports about the militarys crimes because it could prejudice
attitudes toward the administrations policies in Central America.
Binns refused to honor this request.
returning to Tegucigalpa, he learned that the CIA had been instructed
not to share information on human-rights issues with the embassy.
The ambassador, ostensibly the highest U.S. authority in the country,
was cut "out of the loop" by a supposedly subordinate agency.
to rely on overt sources for information, Amb. Binns continued reporting
the militarys abuses and urging Washington to take action; by
the fall of 1981 he was called home early and replaced with John D.
Negroponte, a "team player" who shared the administrations
vision. During his four-year tenure Amb. Negroponte cleared the way
for a massive U.S. and Honduran military buildupa strategy that
required categorical denials of the Honduran militarys human-rights
violations in order to be palatable domestically. Unlike Amb. Binns,
Amb. Negroponte willingly obliged.
sales job included blatantly false statements, such as those in the
State Departments yearly human-rights reports. The 1982 report
on Honduras, for instance, alleges that "student, worker, peasant
and other interest groups have full freedom to organize and hold frequent
public demonstrations without interference. ... Trade unions are not
hindered by the government."
Negroponte, whose influence within the country caused Hondurans to
refer to him jokingly as "the Proconsul," has since gone
on to serve as ambassador to Mexico and the Philippines. Most recently,
until his retirement in September 1997, Amb. Negroponte returned to
Central America to serve as President Clintons chief negotiator
for an arrangement with Panama that would alter the 1977 Canal Accords,
allowing some U.S. troops to remain after the year 2000 as part of
a "multinational counter-drug center." Amb. Binns, on the
other hand, was forced into early retirement.
begins to demilitarize
years, with wars over or winding down in neighboring El Salvador,
Nicaragua and Guatemala, Honduras finally began to reverse its 40
uninterrupted years of creeping militarization. For the first time
since the Honduran armed forces creation, civilians have been
meaningfully chipping away at military power, raising hopes thatas
in much of the rest of Latin Americathe country may overcome
its history of authoritarianism.
has proceeded more slowly in Honduras than elsewhere in Central America.
The high command has jealously guarded its influence and prerogatives,
and no triggering eventsuch as civil war, peace negotiations
or a U.S. invasionhas given civilians the leverage they need.
steps have nonetheless been taken during the last few years. A presidential
decree in 1992 created the office of the human-rights "ombudsman,"
the National Commissioner for
Human Rights. This autonomous agency is empowered with investigating
claims of abuse at the hands of the Honduran government, ranging from
failure to deliver services to serious human-rights violations. Human
Rights Commissioner Dr. Leo Valladares Lanza has been a vocal critic
of the Honduran militarys excesses.
1993, as one of its first official acts, Valladares office released
a detailed "preliminary" report documenting the role of
the armed forcesand particularly Battalion 316in 184 disappearances
during the 1980s. The report, entitled The Facts Speak for Themselves,
represented the first official confirmation of what nongovernmental
Honduran human-rights groups had argued for years: that the Honduran
military systematically disappeared and tortured its own citizens.
1994 the Honduran government created a Public Ministry, an autonomous
agency empowered both to investigate and to prosecute claims of government
abuse. It includes a new investigative agency, the Criminal Investigations
Directorate (DIC). The DIC is the first civilian crime-fighting body
in Honduras since the military took over police duties in 1963. Its
creation accompanied the dissolution of the National Investigations
Directorate (DNI), which was the militarys main internal investigative
and intelligence service. The DNI was used to keep tabs on suspected
subversives, including outspoken opponents of the military. Reports
of human-rights abuses steadily decreased after the DNIs abolition.
of change grew still more rapid after 1994 with the election of a
new president. Though it has been less than consistent in its positions,*
the administration of Carlos Roberto Reina has repeatedly tested the
boundaries of the civil-military relationship.
Institute for Policy Studies
Valladares, the Honduran Human Rights Commissioner, accepts
the 1996 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award.
a former head of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa
Rica, began his term with a May 1994 decree which fulfilled a campaign
promise to end the decades-old practice of forced military recruitment.
Practically overnight, the Honduran army became an all-volunteer serviceand
saw its ranks dwindle rapidly as a result.
appointed civilians to head many institutions long dominated by the
armed forces, among them the telecommunications company, the merchant
marine, the National Directorate of Migration Policy, and the National
has also moved to put the military-run public security force (FUSEP,
the last military police force in the region) under civilian control,
a process that is now nearly complete. By early 1998 at the latest,
civilians will be fully responsible for internal security for the
first time in thirty-five years.
President Reina broke with a long tradition by refusing to nominate
the armed-forces chiefs choice for minister of defense (a largely
ceremonial post.) Earlier, Reina introduced legislation stipulating
that future defense ministers be civilian and that the office of the
armed-forces chiefby far the most powerful military positionbe
abolished after the current chiefs term.
has also refused to give in to military demands for a budget increase,
arguing that the army must first agree to an unprecedented civilian
audit of its finances.
military has largely acquiesced to these changes, which have perhaps
weakened the institution but have not directly threatened officers
power or wealth. The United States deserves some credit for the militarys
reduced profile, as its financial support for the Honduran armed forces
has been cut back deeply in recent years.
fight to end military impunity
remains one area, however, in which Honduran civilians have made little
progress. Military impunity, particularly in human-rights cases, remains
almost complete. As in other new democracies emerging from a militaristic
past, the fight to hold the armed forces legally accountable for their
past actions has been bitter, putting fragile new institutions to
their most serious test. Military resistance in this area has been
unyielding, and the United States has so far done more to hinder than
to help Honduran prosecutors efforts.
1993, Honduran military personnel could not be tried in civilian courts
for any crime. In that year, a Honduran congressional resolution reinterpreted
the "fuero militar," or military justice system,
in a way that gives predominance to civilian courts in cases where
civilian and military jurisdictions overlap.
human rights are not involved, there has been a slight weakening of
military impunity. 1994 saw the first trials of military officers
in civilian courts for "common" (that is, non-human rights)
crimes. The Honduran daily La Prensa reported in July 1997
that 34 military personnel are currently in prison for common crimes
ranging from drug-trafficking to robbery. Col. Juan Blas Salazar,
a former head of the DNI who participated in some of Battalion 316s
activities, was arrested in 1994 and later fined and sentenced to
21 ½ years in prison on drug-related charges. (This sentence was later
reduced to five years.)
25, 1995 the Honduran government made a historic first attempt to
try military officers for human-rights crimes. Sonia Dubón de Flores,
the Public Ministrys special prosecutor for human rights, filed
charges of attempted murder and illegal detention against ten active
and retired army officersseveral of them former members of Battalion
316allegedly involved in the kidnapping of six students in April
case was chosen as an important test of civilian prosecutors
power to hold the military accountable. Unlike cases of disappearance,
the victims are all alive and willing to testify. With eyewitness
accounts and positive identification of many perpetrators, there was
little chance of this case being thrown out for "lack of evidence"
or similar technicalitiesa common outcome of attempted military
prosecutions elsewhere in the region.
this relatively clear-cut case has proven impossible to prosecute,
though, because the accused officers have stubbornly refused to appear
before a civilian judge. Judge Roy Medina of Honduras First
Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for three of the ten accused
officers on October 17, 1995. As of this writing, Col. Billy Joya,
Col. Alexánder Hernández, and Maj. Manuel de Jesús Trejo remain fugitives
from the law, their whereabouts officially unknown.
of fugitive officers rose on June 24, 1996, after a judge in the southern
city of Choluteca issued thirteen arrest warrants for current and
retired military and police agents. They are believed to be involved
in the murder of Honduran Adán Avilés Fúnez and a Nicaraguan laborer,
Amado Espinoza Paz. Of the thirteen, only two answered the courts
summons: Col. Blas Salazar, who was serving a jail sentence for narcotrafficking,
and another officer who was released after proving he was not in the
country when the crime was committed.
elevenamong them the above-mentioned Col. Hernándezare
still at large, along with Col. Joya and Maj. Trejo. The roll call
of fugitives now includes a brigadier-general, three colonels, four
lieutenant-colonels, a captain, and a major. Five were members of
the now-defunct DNI.
lost contact with them two years ago," army spokesman Lt. Col.
Mario David Villanueva insisted recently. "They left their posts,
and we know nothing about them. We suppose they are out of the country.
Nobody has seen them." But it is widely believed that, in a clear
challenge to civilian authority, the Honduran military is protecting
the fugitive officers.
1997, for instance, Honduran Attorney-General Edmundo Orellana revealed
that fugitives who were on active duty continue to receive their salaries
via transfers into their bank accounts. In 1996, Col. Joyadespite
his wanted statuswas able to host a small press conference and
release a report on human-rights violations by the Honduran left.
The head of the DIC, Wilfredo Alvarado, claims that his agents have
seen several of the fugitives in public, but they have not acted because
"they [the fugitives] are accompanied by heavily-armed guards."
search for answers
the ongoing civil-military stalemate over impunity, investigators
continue to look for new evidence about these and other cases of 1980s
abuses. Whether seeking to discover the fate of friends and relatives
or working to prosecute those responsible, brave Honduransboth
within and outside the governmentare pushing for new information
wherever they can find it. Much of the evidence found so far has come
from exhumations, interviews, and perusals of old press reports.
military, unsurprisingly, has withheld all information about its activities
during the 1980s. The armed forces claim that they burn their files
every five years to save space, and that no documentary evidence of
their crimes exists. After a lengthy legal battle Human Rights Commissioner
Leo Valladares and Human Rights Prosecutor Sonia Dubón were allowed
access to the Battalion 316 archives. When they arrived, however,
they found only dozens of empty file cabinets.
search for answers has led investigators to the United States. Its
intimate relationship with the Honduran military during the 1980s
makes the U.S. governments records a potential goldmine of evidence
implicating Honduran officers in human-rights abuses. As President
Reina indicated during a recent trip to the U.S., "Most of the
available evidence is in the possession of the United States government."
to this evidence has proven to be extremely difficult, as investigators
have seen their efforts continually rebuffed. The U.S. agencies which
collaborated most closely with the Honduran armed forces a decade
ago have been only slightly more forthcoming than the Honduran generals
Rights Commissioner Valladares made his initial request for human-rights
information from the U.S. government in late 1993 (see the chronology
at the end of this webpage). After the U.S. government indicated that
the declassification request was too broad, Valladares narrowed its
scope, not once but twice. The detailed request which is
currently pending was personally submitted by Valladares in August
1995. It seeks information from six U.S. agencies.
by the Clinton administration that the U.S. would cooperate and expedite
the declassification of information have had an empty ring. The response
has been excruciatingly slow, and the amount of substantive human-rights
information gleaned from the documents released to date has been bitterly
the State Department (which, as discussed earlier, was largely cut
out of planning and implementation during the 1980s) claims to have
released all of its relevant documents, Valladares has been able to
dislodge fewer than 200 documents from the CIA, the National Security
Council, and three Department of Defense agencies. More than half
of the text of the documents received from the intelligence and defense
agencies has been "blacked out."
poor response has occurred despite consistent follow-up. Valladares,
members of Congress and U.S. nongovernmental organizations have been
tremendously persistent in their efforts to speed the declassification
of human-rights information. Valladares has met on numerous occasions
with officials in all relevant agencies. During a May 1997 visit to
Washington, President Reina appealed publicly on two occasions for
an adequate response to his human-rights commissioners request.
Dozens of Congresspeople signed letters to President Clinton in 1996
and 1997 demanding a speedy declassification; both letters received
written promises that major releases were imminent, but little information
second letter, dated June 13, 1997, even provided target dates for
future releases. While cautioning that "this release will not
include any material that could be expected to cause damage to national
security," the presidents letter outlined the following
1997: By the end of the month, the Department of Defense was
to have completed its "survey to identify any additional
materials that are responsive to the Honduran governments
1997: By the middle of the month, the CIA was to have completed
its review and release of documents about the five specific human-rights
cases covered by Valladares request.
1997: Early in the month, the CIA was to release "human
rights-related material" on Gen. Gustavo Alvarez.
1997: Late in the month, the CIA will release human rights-related
material on Battalion 316.
am a person of good faith. And I believe President Clinton is a person
of good faith as well," said Valladares when the June 1997 letter
was made public. "I just hope that these positive feelings will
materialize into information that can help us resolve these cases."
the Presidents timetable has been utterly ignored. As of mid-September,
the only information received consisted of about 300 heavily-redacted
pages from the CIA about the five cases, released about six weeks
late on August 29. These pages contain little new information about
the circumstances surrounding the capture, illegal detention, torture,
extra-judicial killing or other abuse of the five individuals in question.
"We are in the same situation as if they had handed us nothing,"
report: the wait continues
pressure from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the CIAs
Inspector-General (IG) has kept active an investigation of the CIAs
relationship with the Honduran military during the eighties. The Presidents
letter promised that the IGs long-awaited report would be released
by the end of June 1997; this deadline also went unheeded.
investigations of the CIA roleboth within and outside the IGs
officehave been going on for more than two years, the agencys
foot-dragging has kept information from seeing the light of day. A
review of files was begun in 1995, shortly after the Baltimore
Sun released its series about Battalion 316. This investigation
was quietly closed in early 1996, however, with no release of information
and no action taken against CIA personnel. Only under Intelligence
Committee pressure did CIA Inspector-General Frederick Hitz reopen
it later in 1996.
Clintons letter indicated that though the IGs report itself
will be classified, they "will be shared with the appropriate
committees of Congress." The intelligence committees finally
received the IG report in early September 1997. Given the continued
shroud of secrecy surrounding this report, it is absolutely imperative
that intelligence-committee members and staff read it cover to cover
and scrutinize its findings.
roots of U.S. intransigence
the U.S. government so consistently blocked the efforts of those seeking
the truth about Honduras in the 1980s? Part of the answer is that
Honduras is a small, poor country in a region thatnow that peace
has arrivedis of little geopolitical importance to U.S. policymakers.
Honduras must also compete with its neighbors: its human-rights violations,
while serious, pale in comparison to the outright slaughter that took
place in El Salvador and Guatemala. Greater pressure for declassifications
regarding those countries has helped put Honduras on the "back
damage-control also partially explains the U.S. stance. U.S. complicity
in abuses is exposed by the fact that defense and intelligence agencies
played a significant role in arming, training and advising rights
violators in Honduras. Such revelations, however, would damage institutional
reputations and individual careers. A reluctance to release information
is not surprising.
factor is the historically close relationship between the United States
and the Honduran military. An institution created, trained and armed
with U.S. support, the Honduran armed forces continue to work with
their U.S. counterpart on many fronts.
the massive financial support of the 1980s has mostly been "zeroed
out," 236 Honduran officers are receiving $425,000 worth of free
training in Honduras and at U.S. military installations this year
under the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program.
In 1996, Honduran military personnel made up 13.4% of the total student
body at the U.S. Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning, GA.
Honduran troops are participating in four exercises with U.S. troops
in 1997, and a major "civic assistance" infrastructure-building
exercise in Honduras is planned for the first six months of 1998.
A $7 million donation from the U.S. Army paid for a recently-completed
Army Technical School in Honduras, which will offer training in high-tech
and mechanical skills.
Southern Command (Southcom) maintains 500 troops from its Joint Task
Force Bravo at the Soto Cano base, at an annual cost estimated in
1994 at $38 millioneven though a 1995 General Accounting Office
(GAO) report found the U.S. presence there "not critical to ...
current U.S. policy objectives in the region." During an April
1997 visit to the base, Southcom Commander-in-Chief (now NATO Commander)
Gen. Wesley Clark praised the Honduran militarys "long
and fruitful relationship" with the United States, which allowed
them "to form a team during the cold war."
the U.S. defense establishment continues to value its close working
relationship with the Honduran armed forces. Actions that might threaten
this relationshipsuch as the declassification of incriminating
informationwould naturally be discouraged. A desire to maintain
influence appears to contribute to the lack of official U.S. support
for Honduran civilian investigators.
of sources and methods," however, is how the CIA and other agencies
most frequently justify their withholding of information. Documents,
they argue, must remain secret or be heavily redacted if they reveal
secret information-gathering methods or the identity of the person
who provided the information. By choosing to be a paid U.S. intelligence
source, the argument goes, a foreign individual risks being accused
of treason or a similar crime; for that reason, source identity must
on its face this is a reasonable rationale, it raises difficult issues
in a country like Honduras, where some of the worst abusers of human
rights also happen to be paid U.S. intelligence sources and evidence
in U.S. files can help bring them to justice. In these situations,
the need to protect sources is in direct conflict with the need for
justice and military accountability to civilian oversight. Protecting
a sources identity in effect guarantees that sources impunity
must be done
cannot attain democratic stability if its military can act with impunity.
If Honduran military human-rights abusersaided by U.S. secrecymanage
to avoid their day in court, then their victims families will
be denied their right to know the truth. The gains of the past few
years will ultimately be unsustainable. This would be a major defeat
for proponents of democracy in Honduras and the rest of Central America.
could help Hondurans win the battle against military impunity by responding
promptly and substantively to human-rights investigators pleas
for information. Immediate compliance would send a convincing message
that the United States is clearly and unequivocally on the side of
Central Americas democratic leaders.
the United States, the CIA inspector-generals report must be
made public. Can it be that the public release of the contents of
the IG report would endanger our national security? Or is the CIA
hesitant to divulge the contents for fear of jeopardizing the impunity
enjoyed by its officers and assets?
and a lack of accountability must not prevail at home, either; the
misdeeds of our intelligence and defense officials must be told if
democracy is to be strengthened in the U.S.
same token, it is important to vindicate the role of career officialslike
Amb. Binnswho take seriously their oath to the constitution
and their obligation to report the facts.
actions would of course require that the Clinton Administration be
more proactive and firm with the agencies in question. A good start
would be to hold them to the declassification deadlines laid out in
the Presidents June 1997 letter. If the administration is unwilling
or unable to do this, then it is apparent that our own political system
faces fundamental problems. As Leo Valladares told the Honduran press
recently, the fight over declassification "gives the impression
that the Central Intelligence Agency has much more power than the
average U.S. citizen thinks it does."
chronology of the declassification effort
NOVEMBER 15: Initial letter from Dr. Leo Valladares Lanza,
National Commissioner for the Protection of Human Rights in
Honduras, to U.S. Ambassador William T. Pryce requesting U.S.
government information for a preliminary report on human rights
abuses in Honduras.
NOVEMBER 23: Letter from five U.S. Senators and three Representatives
to U.S. President Bill Clinton states: "... Dr. Valladares
has officially requested access to all information the Government
of the United States may have on this issue ... we urge you
to make available any relevant facts and documents as soon as
DECEMBER 8: Letter from Pryce to Valladares indicates: "If
you could provide us the names of the victims in the cases ...
it would greatly facilitate our ability to provide you with
whatever relevant information might be found in the archives
of the Government of the United States."
DECEMBER 18: Clinton writes Senator Claiborne Pell: "We
are willing to assist Dr. Valladares. However, it is not feasible
to review all the reporting on Honduran human rights matters
since 1980 for material related to all the 140-plus disappearance
cases, as Dr. Valladares has so far requested ... Preliminary
checks indicate that the Department of State's holdings of possibly
responsive documents amount to well over 2,000 for the period
DECEMBER 20: Letter from 46 members of the U.S. Congressional
Human Rights Caucus to Honduran President Rafael Leonardo Callejas
notes: "... Commissioner Valladares Lanza is completing
a report on the cases of disappeared persons in Honduras. We
wish to express our support for this initiative which will provide
information and answers about the plight of disappeared persons
DECEMBER 21: Follow-up letter from Valladares to Pryce to
which is appended a "List of Questions on Topics About
Which Information Is Requested from the United States Government".
There are questions on general topics and on specific human
AUGUST 1: Valladares hand-delivers a detailed declassification
request to Pryce in Tegucigalpa. The request has been narrowed
to six cases of "disappearances" (Fr. James Francisco
"Guadalupe" Carney, Tomás Nativí González, José Eduardo
Becerra Lanza, German Pérez Alemán, Inés Consuelo Murillo Schwaderer
and Gustavo Adolfo Morales Fúnez), General Gustavo Alvarez Martínez
and Battalion 3-16. It is directed to the: Central Intelligence
Agency, Department of Defense, Defense Intelligence Agency,
U.S. Army, National Security Council, and Department of State.
SEPTEMBER 12: Six Senators and two Representatives send
a letter to Clinton indicating that: "The commissioner's
new request appears reasonable and it is our hope that it will
yield a prompt response."
SEPTEMBER 15: Valladares meets in Washington, D.C. with
John Hamilton, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for
Inter- American Affairs, who turns over a packet of documents
which had previously been declassified and released to The Baltimore
Sun or to the family of Father Carney.
SEPTEMBER 20: U.S. Senate Amendment No. 2722 reads: "It
is the sense of the Congress that the President should order
the expedited declassification of any documents in the possession
of the United States Government pertaining to persons who allegedly
'disappeared' in Honduras, and promptly make such documents
available to Honduran authorities who are seeking to determine
the fate of these individuals."
SEPTEMBER 28: Valladares meets in Washington, D.C. with
Richard Feinberg at the National Security Council.
OCTOBER 12: Then Executive Secretary Kenneth Brill at the
U.S. State Department sends a memorandum to other executive
intelligence agencies, requesting their support and cooperation
on Honduran declassification issues.
JANUARY: Officials of the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa release
over 588 pages of State Department documents on the Carney case.
MAY 31: Letter to Pryce from Valladares expresses eagerness:
"to learn the status of our declassification request to
other U.S. government agencies. To date, I have had no communication
from the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.), the Department
of Defense (D.O.D.), the Defense Intelligence Agency (D.I.A.),
the U.S. Army or the National Security Council (N.S.C.) regarding
the declassification of information in response to our request.
Any help which the State Department could provide in ascertaining
the status of our requests with the various agencies would be
most appreciated. Concretely, it would be extremely helpful
to us to know the process which each agency has put in place
to respond to our request, and how much longer we might anticipate
waiting for the release of those documents."
MAY 31: Letter from four Members of Congress to William
J. Perry, Secretary of Defense, and John M. Deutch, Director
of Central Intelligence, urges those agencies "to declassify
documents in as broad a manner as possible and as quickly as
possible", and expresses the belief "that U.S. documents
should be declassified as quickly as possible because the information
they contain could play an important role in efforts by the
Hondurans to strengthen civilian institutions."
JUNE 13: Valladares meets in Washington, D.C. with Hamilton
at the State Department; Maria C. Fernandez-Greczmiel, Deputy
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Inter-American Affairs; and
Lee S. Strickland, Chief -- Information, Privacy and Classification
Review Division, C.I.A.
JUNE 14: Valladares addresses a Congressional Human Rights
Caucus Staff Briefing on "Declassification and the Struggle
to Stop Impunity in Honduras."
JUNE 15: Letter from Valladares to Strickland at the C.I.A.
clarifies in writing his position on topics which they discussed
at their meeting two days earlier.
SEPTEMBER: Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa
turn over 2,033 pages of State Department documents.
SEPTEMBER 30: Valladares meets in Washington, D.C. with
Hamilton. No one at C.I.A. is available to meet with Valladares.
OCTOBER: Letter from Strickland to Valladares states that:
"During the past week, I have discussed with our Executive
Director the documents pertaining to Father Carney and can advise
that the redaction process is complete and the documents are
in the final stage of coordination. Once the coordination and
approval by the Executive Director has been completed, copies
of these documents will be sent to you. Furthermore, I can advise
you that our Honduran Working Group has completed their task
of locating relevant material and a decision on addressing this
material is currently being considered by our Executive Director."
OCTOBER: Memorandum from Ralph B. Novak, Deputy Director,
Inter-American Region, Office of the Assistant Secretary of
Defense to Donald McConville, Office Director, ARA/CEN, Department
of State reports: "To date we have searched 140 boxes of
documents covering the period in question: there are 120 additional
boxes to be brought in from our archives and surveyed before
the requirement can be completed. We are proceeding as expeditiously
as possible, and at the current rate of search should complete
the requirement no later than 31 December 1996."
DECEMBER 3: Letter to Clinton from 34 Members of Congress
"to request the expeditious and complete declassification
of all U.S. documents pertaining to human rights violations
DECEMBER 5: Valladares meets in Washington, D.C. with State
Department officials and with Fernandez-Greczmiel at the Department
of Defense. No one at C.I.A. is available to meet with Valladares.
JANUARY 7: Clinton responds to the December Congressional
letter: "The Department of Defense is in the final stages
of its review and declassification responding to Dr. Valladares'
request, and expects to complete work shortly. The Central Intelligence
Agency is also close to releasing its documents related to the
Father Carney disappearance."
MARCH 13: The CIA releases 124 pages, consisting of 36 documents
related to the Carney case and a "Summary of CIA Documents
on Father Carney". The Defense Department releases 34 documents
responsive to the entire Honduran request. The CIA and DOD documents
are heavily excised.
APRIL 1: Honduran Foreign Minister speaks with U.S. Secretary
of State Madeleine Albright about declassification during a
meeting in Washington, D.C.
MAY 7: Valladares addresses a Congressional Staff Briefing
on "The CIA in Honduras" sponsored by the Center for
MAY 13: Letter from 51 Members of Congress to Clinton requests
that he: "instruct the relevant agencies, namely the DOD
and the CIA, to expedite the declassification and release of
documents on all of the subjects identified by Mr. Valladares,
by an agreed upon date."
MAY 22: Honduran President Carlos Roberto Reina in a press
conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. states:
"Dr. Valladares' valiant efforts to discover the truth
about past human rights abuses, and bring the perpetrators to
justice, have been a major contribution to human rights, the
rule of law and democracy itself. His efforts have been only
partially successful, however, because much of the available
evidence is in the possession of the United States government.
While President Clinton has committed to sharing this evidence
with us, and some documents were provided, some U.S. government
agencies -- especially the ClA -- have refused to declassify
their documents concerning human rights abuses by Honduran government
officials during the 1980s. I intend to raise this issue with
U.S. Government officials during my meetings in Washington this
MAY 23: Reina meets at the White House with Thomas F. McLarty,
Counselor to the President and Special Envoy for the Americas.
JUNE 13: In response to the May Congressional letter, Clinton
gives target dates for the CIA and DOD release of documents
responsive to Dr. Valladares' request and for the completion
of a classified report on CIA activities in Honduras by the
CIA Inspector General.
JUNE 18: Fernandez-Greczmiel of the Department of Defense
informs Valladares of her hope that: "we can make this
submission to you, through the State Department by early July."
AUGUST 29: The CIA releases 97 documents [313 pages] on
the five human rights cases involving Hondurans included in
the Valladares request. The documents are heavily excised and
contain more information on the organization and activities
of leftist groups in Honduras than they do on the kidnappings,
illegal detentions, torture and extrajudicial killings in the
individual cases in question.