World News

Honduras seeks to revive cases from 1980s dirty war

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduras wants to revive cases accusing officials of murder and torture in a 1980s dirty war against leftists when 184 people disappeared and were presumed dead at the hands of death squads, the president said on Monday.

Human rights groups say death squads with links to police and the military were behind the disappearances as a civilian government launched a crackdown on leftist activists between 1982 and 1990.

“We have to reopen these cases, not to reopen the wounds, but to concentrate on real peace, punishing those responsible for violating human rights in this country,” Honduras’ left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya said in a speech.

At least 10 cases brought by rights groups have been stalled for years in the courts, and previous governments had little political will to move the cases forward. Activists now want to deepen the probe.

Honduras’ repression of the 1980s was part of a wave of so-called “scorched earth” policies carried out by governments in Central America in an effort to wipe our communism, often with the backing of the United States.

One of Honduras’ most notorious death squads called “Battalion 316” -- known for its brutal torture techniques -- was allegedly trained by CIA agents, according to declassified U.S. government documents.

Honduras suffered less from the problem than neighboring Guatemala, where close to 250,000 people were killed during its 36-year civil war, and El Salvador, where some 70,000 people died. But Zelaya said the country is still scarred by the violence.

“It is time to set some precedents,” he said in a speech to his Liberal Party. “There are hundreds of families who have not forgotten.”

Reporting by Gustavo Palencia