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Updated 03/20/2006

Battalion 3-16 Members Deported From North America

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Several Hondurans who were members of Battalion 3-16 and are accused of human rights abuses immigrated to North America and were ultimately arrested and deported.

Gen. Luis Alonso Discua Elvir, a former head of the Honduran armed forces, was a founder and commander of Battalion 3-16. As his term as military chief came to an end in January 1996, Honduran President Carlos Roberto Reina appointed him to the post of Honduras’ deputy representative to the United Nations, a move that was widely protested by human rights advocates. In reality, however, Discua rarely fulfilled his duties as a diplomat. While he should have resided and worked in New York, where the United Nations is based, he actually spent most of his time running an import/export business in Florida. A Florida-based human rights watchdog group, the International Educational Missions, tipped off the State Department that Discua was secretly living in Miami. In February 2001, Washington revoked Discua's diplomatic visa, forcing him to leave the country.

While Discua’s failure to perform the functions of his position was the reason for his departure, the timing appeared suspicious to some observers because it occurred just a few weeks before President Bush announced his intention to nominate John Negroponte as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Negroponte served as U.S. ambassador to Honduras in the early 1980s. Upon his return to Honduras, Discua reportedly told the Honduran newspaper La Prensa that he was brought to the United States for two months in 1983 to organize Battalion 3-16 to work with the Nicaraguan Contra forces and also suggested that he had more information to reveal. Despite his commanding role in Battalion 3-16, Discua has never been charged with any human rights abuses in Honduras, and he is apparently living with impunity in the country.

Juan Angel Hernández Lara, a former Honduran military officer and a member of Battalion 3-16, was the first former Latin American military official to be deported under the INS’s new deportation program. Hernández Lara illegally entered the United States through Mexico in 1989 and took up residence in Palm Beach County, Fla. He applied for political asylum, claiming his association with Battalion 3-16 put him in danger in Honduras, but that request was ultimately denied. The INS arrested Hernández Lara in June 2000 and a judge ordered him deported the following January because of his admitted involvement with the battalion, including participation in the torture of four individuals. (He later asserted that although he was a member of the battalion, he never tortured or killed anyone and had made up those stories to support his asylum claim.) INS agents escorted Hernández Lara back to Honduras, but he immediately returned to the United States, again entering illegally through Mexico. Going on a tip from International Educational Missions, INS agents arrested him again in March 2001. He was charged with violating a 1996 law that bars people who have been deported from reentering the country.

This was the first case to reach a federal court since the INS began its new detention program. Hernández Lara’s lawyer argued that his life would be endangered if he returned to his home country, and she planned to send investigators to Honduras to gather evidence to support the case. Human rights advocates had hoped the investigation and resulting trial would shed light on the activities of Battalion 3-16. However, when the presiding U.S. district judge determined not to admit evidence about Hernández Lara’s history or allegations of human rights abuses, the defendant decided to plead guilty to the illegal reentry charge. He was sentenced to seven months and deported again in late 2001. However, in late 2003, immigration agents learned that Lara was once again living in Palm Beach County, where his wife has continued to reside; they arrested him in April 2004.

José Barrera Martínez served as an interrogator and assassin for Battalion 3-16. In 1987 he left the battalion and sought political asylum in Canada, claiming that he would be killed if he returned to Honduras. There he gave detailed descriptions of his involvement in the battalion, and his testimony is some of the most gruesome: he admitted that he electrocuted victim’s genitals, suffocated people with rubber hoods, and once tore off a man’s testicles with a rope. In a 1996 interview with The Baltimore Sun, he said he was trained by the CIA and Argentines in Honduras and an unknown location in the United States. He said that although the CIA discouraged the use of torture, the agency knew that the Hondurans used torture as a method of interrogation. Barrera was deported in February 2001 and upon returning to Honduras, he rescinded his previous written testimony that he had used to gain entry to Canada. That testimony was to be used as evidence in the cases related to Billy Joya Amendola and Alexander Hernández Santos, accused of the illegal detention of six university students in 1982. The Honduran Public Ministry subsequently charged Barrera with providing false testimony and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He is currently at large.

Jaime Ramírez Raudales, an alleged former member of Battalion 3-16, is charged with the 1988 murders of human rights activists Miguel Angel Pavón Salazar and Moises Landaverde. Pavón, a commissioner for the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras, had been the first witness to testify in an Inter-American Court of Human Rights trial against the Honduran government for the disappearance Manfredo Velázquez and three others. In July 2002 a Honduran judge issued an arrest warrant for Ramírez, but the suspect was living safely in Miami. However, on March 4, 2003, acting on a tip from International Educational Missions, agents of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Ramírez in his home. Ramírez was the first suspected human rights abuser arrested by the ICE, which took over the duties of the INS that month. An immigration judge ordered Ramírez deported based on the Honduran murder charges, and in August 2003 immigration officers escorted him back to Honduras, where he was arrested by the authorities there. However, in March 2004 a court dropped the charges against Ramirez, saying that he was not “materially responsible” for the crimes.

Lt. Col. Juan López Grijalba, a Honduran military intelligence chief and a commander of Battalion 3-16, currently faces a U.S. civil lawsuit charging him responsible for the torture, killings and disappearances of Honduran civilians. Grijalba immigrated to the United States in 1998 but was arrested by the INS in April 2002 for immigration violations. The government initiated deportation hearings because of his alleged history of human rights abuse and because he was wanted on a homicide warrant issued by Honduran authorities. An INS spokeswoman noted that he was possibly the highest-ranking individual named a persecutor by an immigration judge. Upon learning of his arrest, the Center for Justice and Accountability initiated a civil court case against Grijalba on behalf of two torture survivors and the relatives of two Hondurans who were disappeared.

The plaintiffs allege that Grijalba “planned, ordered, authorized, encouraged, or permitted subordinates in the Honduran military and paramilitary forces to commit acts of torture, disappearance and extrajudicial killing,” and then helped to cover up the abuses. The lawsuit is based on two federal laws that allow U.S. courts to assess damages against perpetrators of serious human rights violations committed abroad. The case was scheduled to go to trial Oct. 18, 2004; however, less than a week before the start date, the federal judge postponed the trial. Meanwhile, an immigration judge had finally ruled on the immigration bureau’s deportation case and ordered López Grijalba deported. On Oct. 21, 2004, immigration agents escorted him on a plane back to Honduras. The Center for Justice and Accountability and its plaintiffs continue to await the federal judge’s ruling. They hope for a judgement holding López Grijalba responsible for abuses by his subordinates and assessing a damages award against him. (Read more about the civil suit against Grijalba.)

For more information

"Honduran couple details how they were tortured." Alfonso Chardy. The Miami Herald; March 17, 2006.