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Congress Begins Hearings Into Matta Deportation

April 14, 1988

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) _ The Honduran Congress began hearings on the deportation of a reputed drug baron to the United States that caused violent protests and forced the government to impose a state of emergency.

The emergency decree was issued for Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula on April 8 after 2,000 demonstrators, enraged over the forced extradition of Juan Ramon Matta, burned the U.S. Consulate and U.S. Information Service office in the capital. The decree was lifted Wednesday after tension subsided.

Police and soldiers arrested Matta in a pre-dawn raid on his Tegucigalpa home April 5 and deported him to the United States by way of the Dominican Republic the following day without a passport. The Honduran Constitution forbids the extradition of Honduran citizens.

Matta, 43, a Honduran citizen, is being held at a maximum security federal prison in Marion, Ill., on drug trafficking charges. He also was wanted for questioning by U.S. authorities in connection with the 1985 torture-slaying in Mexico of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena Salazar.

Col. Leonel Riera Lunatti, commander of the public security forces, testified behind closed doors for over two hours on Wednesday before a congressional commission investigating the deportation.

Riera Lunatti arrived at the legislative chambers surrounded by security guards and declined to comment to reporters.

But Ramon Rufino Mejia, chairman of the hearing, said Riera Lunatti testified he had broken into Matta’s home at the orders of superiors. Riera Lunatti stated the armed forces were responsible for the operation, Rufino Mejia said.

Judge Saul Suazo, who issued the search warrant authorizing the break-in, also testified before the panel on Wednesday.

Rufino Mejia said the commission planned to hear testimony from Ramualdo Bueso, interior and justice minister; Maj. Efrain Gutierrez, head of the government immigration department; Maj. Santiago Perdomo, director of aviation; and Col. Marco Antonio Chavez, chief of a local police district.

The chairman refused to rule out the possibility the panel could summon President Jose Azcona Hoyo to testify.

″We have begun a serious investigation into the affair because we consider that no functionary, be he military or civilian, is above Honduran laws,″ Rufino Mejia said.

The government lifted the emergency decree and restored full constitutional guarantees at 6 a.m. Wednesday in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, 125 miles to the north. Business, commerce and transportation operated normally.

Five Hondurans died in the rioting last week. The U.S. Embassy, located in the same complex as the burned offices, was not damaged.

Police detained at least 70 people believed involved in the attack, said Maj. Manuel Antonio Urbina, chief police spokesman.

Honduras is a staunch U.S. ally, but some Hondurans protested the presence of U.S. soldiers in their country and joint U.S.-Honduran military exercises.

Honduras was used as a base by U.S.-supported Contra rebels who fought the leftist Nicaraguan government until last month’s signing of a cease-fire pact. Just before that agreement, the United States sent 3,200 soldiers to Honduras after Nicaraguan troops reportedly pursued Contras into Honduran territory.

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