Let the U.S. come clean on Honduras Declassification request: Honduran human rights director deserves U.S. cooperation.

June 12, 1996

WHAT DOES THE U.S. know about the murderous activities %% of the Honduran military during that country's vicious civil war in the 1980s? Does this information, hidden under government declassification procedures for more than a decade, implicate any U.S. citizens then in contact with Honduran military officers? %%

%% The willingness of the Clinton administration to end a protracted bureaucratic cover-up will be put to the test tomorrow when the head of the Honduras Commission on Human Rights, Leo Valladares Lanza, meets with State and Defense Department officials. He is requesting specific information on the disappearance in the early 1980s of six persons who were picked up as enemies of the military regime. Also sought are long-classified documents in U.S. files about Battalion 316, whose activities were exposed by this newspaper a year ago.

Mr. Valladares' request raises wrenching questions about how Latin American countries should deal with the excesses that occurred during struggles between military authorities and civilian insurgents, running the gamut from genuine democrats to revolution-minded Marxists. Some nations have opted for amnesty as the road to reconciliation. Others have worked on the theory that only by confronting the past can a morally cleansed future be faced.

It really is not for the United States to arbitrate these disputes. But it is up to the U.S. to come clean about what it was doing during a period when right-left struggles in Latin American were considered part of the larger Cold War. President Clinton indicated a year ago that he favored declassification of U.S. documents that might shed light on what went on. And Congress has passed a resolution calling for the administration -- especially the Pentagon and CIA -- to release pertinent documents.

Because the Honduran military has systematically destroyed its files and its sympathizers continue to harass human rights advocates, the U.S. can help correct what blots are on its own record in that small Central American country by assisting in bringing the truth to light. It is then for Honduras to decide what to do with it. For the moment, civilian power or "space" is expanding there at the expense of the military, but with democratic traditions so fragile there is no assurance this will continue.

Pub Date: 6/12/96

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