The Tragic Christian

Father James Carney left St. Louis to work with the poor in Honduras, putting him at odds with both church and state. Fifteen years after his mysterious death, a new CIA report raises more questions than answers.

The enigma enveloping Carney's death may have been perpetuated by the Honduran army's complicity in the execution of these guerrillas. According to the CIA report, Alvarez, the head of the Honduran armed forces, commanded that all captive insurgents be interrogated and then killed. To keep these atrocities secret, Alvarez additionally ordered that "each officer participate (in the executions) so that they would not disclose their action," the CIA report states.

Moreover, there are repeated references in CIA intelligence reports to Honduran special forces' recovering a substantial amount of money from Reyes Mata's body. Estimates of the amount of confiscated cash range from $15,000-$500,000. The CIA report indicates the Honduran special forces could have divided the money among themselves, or it may have been split among ranking officers, including Alvarez.

* What was the United States' involvement in the operation? There is a possibility that the CIA or U.S. military had infiltrated the guerrilla group before it left on its doomed mission. David Arturo Baez Cruz, also known as Comandante Adolfo, was a naturalized U.S. citizen who had served as a counterinsurgency specialist in the Green Berets at the U.S. Army's Southern Command in Panama, according to Susan Peacock of the National Security Archive. After the Sandinista revolution, he returned to Nicaragua and joined Reyes Mata's guerrilla group, Peacock says. Baez, who is also among the disappeared, acted as the radio operator for the guerrillas' Honduran incursion. References in the recently released CIA report indicate that the CIA was monitoring radio communications between the guerrillas and the Sandinistas. If Baez indeed possessed a U.S. military-intelligence background, it raises the question of whether he was knowingly broadcasting information not only to the Sandinistas but also to the CIA. In a Dec. 23 response to a Freedom of Information Act request placed by the National Security Archive, the CIA could "not confirm nor deny" whether Baez had been debriefed by the Honduran military, CIA personnel or others.

Despite all these uncertainties, the most credible testimony pertaining to the circumstances surrounding Carney's death is that of the late Florencio Caballero. In April 1987, Caballero told Americas Watch, a human-rights group, that he had been participating in the torture of suspected leftist subversives as an interrogator in a military-intelligence unit that came to be called Battalion 316. Caballero, who claimed that the CIA had trained him in Texas, said Carney had been captured and interrogated at El Aguacate, a U.S.-controlled air base used to supply the contras. Caballero said Alvarez ordered Carney's execution, in the presence of a North American known only as "Mr. Mike." Carney was subsequently thrown from a helicopter, according to Caballero. An early U.S. government response to the Connolly's request for information supports the idea that U.S. personnel not only had knowledge of Carney's capture, but may have participated in his interrogation. In a letter dated Dec. 7, 1983, the U.S. State Department informed the family that "during the Honduran military Olancho operation, the U.S. Defense attache assisted in the debriefings of guerrillas."

In the recently released CIA report, however, the onus for many of the disappearances of Honduran leftists is not placed directly on Battalion 316 but on an entity within it -- the Honduran Anti-Communist Liberation Army (ELACH). In a 1986 letter to congressional intelligence committees, CIA director William Casey expressed "concern that ELACH would continue as a viable organization with high contacts in the Honduran government." Casey also vowed to personally investigate the issue further, but he never followed up on the matter; nor did John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to Honduras.

All anti-communists, after all, were viewed as allies by the Reagan administration.

Enemy of the States
Whereas the Carter Administration failed to stem human-rights abuses in Central America, the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 seemed to sanction the carnage. Increases in abductions, torture and assassinations corresponded with the rise in U.S. military aid to the region. In Guatemala, the disappearances of Catholic laity and clergy were ordered by Mario Sandoval Alarcon, who attended Reagan's first inauguration. In El Salvador, the torture and assassinations were planned by Major Roberto D'Aubuisson. In Honduras, the terror campaign fell under the direction of Alvarez, who was eventually overthrown in 1984 in a military coup and later assassinated.

Before Alvarez was removed from power, however, the U.S. military-intelligence establishment wooed him into allowing the contras to bivouac on Honduran soil. In the early stages, the contras were being handled indirectly through Washington by way of Buenos Aires. The Argentine military exported its death-squad activities to Central America with the support of the U.S. government, using Honduras as the base of operations for the CIA-financed counterrevolution against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

But by December 1982, the "covert" war against Nicaragua had gained the attention of the U.S. Congress and become a matter of public debate. Concern over the escalating military buildup and the possibility of another Vietnam in the Western Hemisphere convinced the Democratic majority to pass the Boland Amendment, which placed a ban on further military aid to "overthrowing the Nicaraguan government or provoking a military exchange between Nicaragua and Honduras."

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