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Politics and Death Squads

January 24, 1988

Death squads are at work again in Honduras even as the unprecedented trial of the Honduran government unfolds before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. Together these events measure the depth of the political crisis in Central America and the slight but real hope for reform that lies behind the court proceedings.

The most recent victims of the death squads have been Miguel Angel Pavon, vice president of the Honduran Committee for Human Rights, anda professor who was with him at the time of the shooting Jan. 14 in the city of San Pedro Sula. Pavon had been the first witness before the unique O19193777741768252448rnment of Honduras, led the court to issue its own demand for better governmental protection of those involved in this case.

In one sense Honduras is to be praised for the fact that it is on trial, for it has not been alone in terms of human-rights violations but has been willing to accept the jurisdiction of the inter-American court. This is the first time that a government has been brought to trial. The evidence isoverwhelming that the death-squad operations, with leftist political figures as the targets, were a part of the Honduran army--at least in the lethal years of the early 1980s.

There is cause for particular concern in the United States because of the role of the Central Intelligence Agency in organizing at least oneof the military units linked to the death-squad operations. The deployment of death squads would appear to be consistent with the single-m1768842341some of the CIA clandestine operations under the directorship of the late William J. Casey. There already has been testimony from a woman witness that a CIA agent was present for at least a portion of her interrogation and torture by Honduran military personnel.

The deaths of 140 Hondurans from 1980 until the present have been attributed to the death squads. Even more have died in El Salvador, the other Central American nation most closely allied with the United States. But those deaths have failed to rival the numbers killed in Argentina when that country was ruled by the military--the same military that offered help to the United States inits effort to suppress leftists in Central America.

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