FAMILIES of the 184 "disappeared," feared killed by Honduras' dread Battalion 316 in the early 1980s, are entitled to all the truth that can be learned. Only through lighting up the hidden corners of its recent past can Honduras heal its society and promote reconciliation and progress.
That's why the suggestion of President Carlos Roberto Reina that a 1991 amnesty covers crimes alleged to have been committed by the military in the 1980s casts such a chill. It tells the courts and attorney general's office to let up, and subtly asks the U.S. not to provide enlightening documents.
The health of Honduras, however, rests on the quest for truth. The attorney general's office has filed charges against 15 current and former army officers in connection with the 184 disappearances. These cases are working their way through a somewhat insecure judicial system. Early this month, Judge Roy Medina declared that sufficient evidence exists to prosecute four officers in kidnapping and torturing of six students in the 1980s.
Mr. Reina is a former oppositionist who was jailed by the military regime. He won election in November 1993 promising a "moral revolution" and reduction in army influence. There are reports of sabotage against the presidential telephones coincidental with his attempt to privatize the army-run telephone system and otherwise weaken the military establishment's grip.
So it's not hard to imagine reasons for Mr. Reina to earn the gratitude of potentially hostile officers. A Sun investigation published last June traced the cover-up and evidence linking Battalion 316 to the disappearances and torture of suspected leftists, and the CIA to the training of the battalion.
In every country that has emerged from suppression of human rights -- the former Soviet bloc, Chile and Argentina, South Africa, Haiti -- tension arises between the imperatives for justice and for reconciliation. Honduras is no different, except that it is tiny and its civil war and crimes in the 1980s were on a small scale compared to those in El Salvador and Nicaragua.
The future serenity of Honduras rests on the effort of its judicial system to find out what happened more than a dozen years ago, with sufficient credibility that all Hondurans will accept the findings. It is sad if, for whatever motive, President Reina interferes with the light.