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Updated 09/28/2008

Remembering 25 Years Ago—June 1981


June 11 

Six masked men break into the Tegucigalpa home of Tomás Nativí Galvez, a 33-year-old professor, where he, his pregnant wife Bertha Oliva and colleague Fidel Martínez, a 40-year-old agronomist, are sleeping. Nativí and Martínez, both Hondurans, are co-founders of the People’s Revolutionary Union, a leftist organization critical of the government and opposed to foreign interventionism in the region. Nativí had previously been illegally detained, tortured and temporarily disappeared, and is still under treatment for torture-related injuries. The men shoot Martínez, beat Nativí and take the two away in a car. During the struggle, Oliva pulls the mask off one of the men, who she later recognizes as Alexander Herdández Santos, a police captain believed to be the operational commander of military intelligence Battalion 3-16, which functioned as a death squad. Authorities deny involvement in the abductions even though the disappearances are widely recognized as typical of death squad activity. Martínez's body is later found outside the city, but Nativí is never seen again.  

U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Jack Binns writes in a June 19 cable to Washington, “The dual disappearance is the first case within memory involving well-known political personalities and, if the [government of Honduras] was indeed involved as alleged, this would mark a highly significant departure from previous official policy. Some credence is lent to this possibility by the absence of right-wing groups known to be capable of this kind of action. Further credence is provided by a little-commented by recently growing phenomenon involving the mysterious deaths, sometimes while in police custody, of known or alleged professional criminals.” 


“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 

MISF interview with Bertha Oliva; June 26, 2006 

U.S. Embassy Tegucigalpa cable 4309, "Disappearance of Revolutionary Leaders," June 19, 1981 

June 17 

Ambassador Binns reports to Washington that in a June 15 conversation with an embassy officer, an agent of the Honduran Public Security Forces (FUSEP) stated that unofficial orders had been issued requiring that any “delinquent” picked up with a total of 25 detentions on his record—regardless of the ultimate disposition of the charges—was to be summarily executed. The agent claimed that more than 150 people had been handled in this way over the previous three months. Binns notes that newspapers of recent months have been filled with stories and photos of corpses, and often a police connection is described. 

Binns sends another cable to Washington stating, “I am deeply concerned at increasing evidence of officially sponsored/sanctioned assassinations of political and criminal targets, which clearly indicate [government of Honduras] repression has built up a head of steam much faster than we had anticipated.” Binns suggests that the issue be raised with Col. Gustavo Álvarez Martínez, commander of the Honduran Public Security Forces, “whose minions appear to be the principal actors and whom I suspect is the intellectual force being this new strategy for handling subversives/criminals.” The cable makes reference to the fact that the United States is providing covert support to FUSEP. 


“The United States in Honduras, 1980-1981: An Ambassador’s Memoir.” Jack R. Binns. McFarland & Co. Inc.; 2000 

U.S. Embassy Tegucigalpa cable 4300 (EXDIS), "Possible Appearance of Death Squad Type Justice," June 17, 1981 

U.S. Embassy Tegucigalpa cable 4314 (NODIS), "Reports of GOH Repression and Approach to Problem," June 17, 1981.