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Updated 01/14/2008

Remembering 25 Years Ago—February 1982

Feb. 21

Nelson Mackay Chavarría—a 31-year-old lawyer, legal adviser for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, husband and father—is detained in Tegucigalpa while out buying a Sunday paper. According to witnesses, he is last seen alive, hogtied and beaten, in the custody of the National Intelligence Directorate.

Miguel Francisco Carías, an architectural draftsman, is detained and held captive for a week along with Mackay in two secret jails in northern Tegucigalpa. During this time he is tortured, including being shocked via electric wires attached to his genitals, and he witnesses Mackay suffering torture and deprivation.

Mackay's family suggests his detention and disappearance may be linked to his work: because the culture minister and the head of the armed forces are brothers, Mackay may have had access to confidential military information. Another theory is that he was suspected of arranging gun sales to a radical student group. Carías is alleged to have been Mackay’s co-conspirator.

About a week after Mackay's abduction, residents of a village near the border with El Salvador find a body on the bank of the Goascorán River and, per government policy of that time, bury it. They say the victim's hands and feet were tied, a noose was around his neck, and his eyes and mouth doused with "creolina," a thick black liquid used to kill ticks and mites on cattle. Meanwhile, Mackay's wife, Amelia, gives up a public search for him a few weeks after his disappearance because of telephone threats against their children.

Twelve years later, in December 1994, a team of forensic anthropologists excavates a gravesite and discovers a body, which is positively identified as Mackay. This opens the door for the newly established Honduran human rights prosecutor to initiate an investigation and legal proceedings. Three Honduran military officers were charged with responsibility for the illegal detention and murder of Mackay and the illegal detention and torture of Carías. However, despite the fact that the case is well documented and includes witnesses, it remains stalled in the judicial system.

Read the full case history.


“Honduras: The Facts Speak for Themselves.” The Preliminary Report of the National Commissioner for the Protection of Human Rights in Honduras. Human Rights Watch; July 1994.

Comité de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos en Honduras Web site, Desaparecidos-1982.

“When a wave of torture and murder staggered a small U.S. ally, truth was a casualty.” Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson. The Baltimore Sun; June 11, 1995.

“Honduras: Continued Struggle Against Impunity.” Amnesty International; Feb. 26, 1996.

“Human Rights Watch World Report 1996: Honduras.” Human Rights Watch; 1996.

U.S. State Dept. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Honduras. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State; 1994-1996, 2000-2005. (Index)