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Cashiered Strongman Returns

April 22, 1988

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) _ A deposed and exiled Honduran military chief charged with overseeing death squads is under house arrest after he returned from the United States as a born-again Christian.

Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, who cooperated in U.S. policy against leftist Nicaragua, headed Hondura’s armed forces from 1982 until he was disarmed, handcuffed and put on a plane out of the country by mutinous subordinates March 31, 1984.

The former general returned April 9 from Miami, where he has lived for the past four years. On Tuesday he was placed under house arrest in his luxurious home in the Florencia Norte suburb of this capital.

Alvarez, who was dishonorably discharged and stripped of his rank in an unprecedented display of his comrades’ ire, is charged in connection with the disappearance of about 130 suspected leftists and the killings of about 30 others.

″If anyone thinks they have evidence against me, let them take it to the courts,″ he told journalists at his home the day after his arrival. ″I have found tranquillity, and fear nothing and no one except God.″

Alvarez, 50, said some of his erstwhile subordinates may have kidnapped or killed suspected subversives, ″and now it’s being placed at my feet.″

The ex-general’s wife and five children remain in Miami and plan to join him in June.

That is, unless Criminal Court Judge Saul Suazo Lara, who is hearing Alvarez’ case, takes the unlikely step of ordering him jailed. Suazo must decide next week whether to imprison Alvarez on the basis of available evidence or dismiss the case.

Jurists say the charges will likely be dropped. They say that even if there were evidence against him, Alvarez would benefit from a late-1984 amnesty preventing prosecution for such crimes.

An Associated Press reporter went to Alvarez’ grand two-story home in an effort to speak with him. But a guard who relayed the request returned to say the former commander decided to make no further comment to the press.

Alvarez told journalists the day after his arrival: ″Those who threw me out of this country thought they were throwing me in the garbage. But they threw me into the arms of the Lord and made me a new man.″

A former Roman Catholic, he said last year in Miami that he converted to evangelical Christianity in 1985 after rereading the Bible. He described the vivid, anguished recollection of all the wrongs he’d ever committed and hours of uncontrollable sobbing.

But mothers of the victims of death squads that emerged under the staunchly anti-communist general reject his professed conversion.

″He cannot hide behind the Bible,″ said Liduina Hernandez, whose 23-year- old son Enrique disappeared in 1982. ″Christ died for the truth, so let Alvarez begin by telling the truth about what happened to our sons and daughters.″

Mrs. Hernandez is president of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared, one of two rights groups pressing the case against Alvarez. She and several other mothers commented at a press conference Wednesday.

It was under Alvarez’ command that the Reagan administration consolidated its use of Honduras in the effort to topple Nicaragua’s leftist government. U.S.-funded rebels established base camps in Honduras along the Nicaraguan border and the Contras waged most of their 6-year campaign from there.

The U.S. also established the Regional Military Training Center in northern Honduras during Alvarez’ tenure. The center, now defunct, was used mainly to train government forces from El Salvador in counterinsurgency techniques.

A year before his expulsion, Alvarez formed the Association for Progress in Honduras, a group of politicians and business leaders. The organization was seen as a vehicle for the general’s political ambitions, widely believed to include the presidency.

But Alvarez told journalists after coming back that once his legal problems are resolved, he wants to dedicate himself to a ″normal and private life″ removed from politics. He said last week he would like to settle down in the northern coastal town of La Ceiba and find some sort of business ″to earn me my beans.″

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