Posts Tagged ‘Olancho massacre’

A number of years ago Don Dietrich and I stood outside the American embassy on Avenue Rd. in Toronto holding a large sign which said “Who killed Padre Guadalupe?”  Of course no one came out of the embassy to talk to us, but it wasn’t really necessary.

My interest in Honduras comes with people who have crossed my path.  In

Iván Betancourt 34 years old - photo sent home 1 month before his death

1973 while finishing some theology courses before ordination, I met Ivan Betancourt, a diocesan missionary from Colombia who worked in the Olancho province of Honduras. Ivan was studying along with my dear friend and mentor, John Kroetch, at St. Paul’s seminary in Ottawa. They were both working on a Master’s degree in pastoral counselling and family life. John returned to Peru and Ivan returned to his parish in Olancho. Before I was ordained Ivan wrote to me a lovely heart inspired letter on the difficulties of the priesthood, a letter that I kept and treasure.

"I want to build community - to awaken and to question .." Ivan in Olancho

In June 1975 when I was working in a parish with John Kroetch in Comas, Peru I read a newspaper report that two priests and a number of peasant leaders had been killed in what is called the “Horcones Massacre”. One of those priests killed, after a most brutal session of torture, was my friend Ivan.  He had been captured by the military who were paid by a wealthy land owner José Manuel “Mel” Zelaya because of his opposition to church support for agrarian reform and land redistribution.  (This Mel Zelaya and the military officers involved were convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, but they were pardoned after only 1 year in jail. Another note – this Mel Zelaya is the father of the future president of the country Mel Zelaya, who after being elected president moved towards a more populist position and was ousted in a US sponsored military coup in 2009.)  The brutality of these murders illustrated the intense opposition by the wealthy elites and landowners to the social activism by sectors of the church.

Around 1985 in Toronto when we were living at Loretto College, we met a Honduran Jesuit who was in Canada to learn English. We invited him to our little apartment behind the College and then we saw him almost daily until he left.  We have maintained contact and he is a very dear friend. Ismael (Melo) Moreno s.j. returned to work in Honduras and is presently superior of the community in El Progreso, in the province of Yoro in the north of the country. Melo spoke to us of Ivan Betancourt and another

Fr. James (Guadalupe) Carney 1982

priest who was also killed in Honduras.  This was James Carney, known as Padre Guadalupe.  Through Melo we came to know Eileen and Joe Connolly from St.  Louis, Mo.; Eileen is one of the sisters of Padre Guadalupe.  Because of this intimate connection to the Carney family Melo, on his return to Honduras, stopped to visit Joe and Eileen and gave them our number and address.  They made a number of trips to Toronto in their search to determine what had happened to James Carney.  (That follows in the article from the NCT-SF and my addition to that post.)

Eileen gave me a copy of her brother’s autobiography titled “To be a revolutionary”. During one of these trips to Toronto Eileen and Joe met with Florencio Caballero, a supposed “refugee” fast tracked by Canadian immigration to enter Canada.  Caballero by his own admission was a member of the Battalion 3-16, a death squad operated by Gen. Gustavo Álvarez Martínez but funded and directed by the American embassy.

So as I look back at my journey I think about these two martyrs who have crossed my path.  Ivan I knew personally – an unlikely martyr as he was such a peaceful and quiet man. But he stood with his parishoners when they clamoured for justice and land reform.  James Carney I know only through his family and his writings, and his young altar server now Jesuit superior. (Melo is also the director of Radio Progreso, operated by the Jesuits, which was temporarily closed at the time of the military coup which ousted the President. Melo has received death threats recently because of his open opposition to the fraudulent elections in Honduras and the military coup.)

Thus my continued interest in Honduras and the story of  Padre Guadalupe.

In the Latin American tradition:

Ivan Betancourt – ¡Presente!

Padre Guadalupe – ¡Presente!


Who was James Guadalupe Carney sj? and why are there still coverups?

Posted by: Editor NCT on Mon, 01 February 2010 01:00:00  http://www.newcatholictimes.com/
The disappearance of the Rev. James Francis Carney is significant because Carney had been a U.S. citizen and because of credible allegations that U.S. military and intelligence personnel were directly involved.

Dear Friends,

I would like to ask you to send a letter (the old-fashioned kind, on
paper) to President Obama, your U.S. Senators, and also your U.S.
Representative, asking them to contact the CIA Director Leon Panetta
to express their support for a Freedom of Information Act request
which I have sent to the CIA.

My request has to do with the case of Fr. James “Guadalupe” Carney, an
American priest who disappeared in Honduras in 1983 when he entered
that country as a chaplain to a small revolutionary group. (For more
information, see PS below.)

Below is a sample letter which provides the basic information about
this matter. You may wish to follow up with phone calls about a week
after sending your letters.

Thanks for your kind consideration.

Peace, in struggle,
Fr Joe Mulligan

The Honduran military suggested that he had starved to death in the
mountains. Five years later, a former sergeant of the Honduran army,
Florencio Caballero, told The New York Times (June 5, 1988) that he
personally had interrogated Carney and that the priest had been
tortured, executed and perhaps thrown from a helicopter.
The CIA has stated that it cannot rule out the possibility that Father
Carney was captured and killed by the Honduran military.

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
The disappearance of the Rev. James Francis Carney is significant because Carney had been a U.S. citizen and because of credible allegations that U.S. military and intelligence personnel were directly involved.

A Jesuit priest from St. Louis, Carney began working as a missionary in Honduras in 1961. He dedicated his life there to helping organize the poor in their struggle for land and labor rights. Carney took the name “Padre Guadalupe” to show his reverence for the Virgin of Guadalupe. His deep connection with the country and its people led him to renounce his U.S. citizenship and become a naturalized Honduran citizen in 1974.

jpg Carney wrote in his autobiography, published posthumously as “To Be a Christian Is… To Be a Revolutionary”: “Why are the campesinos so poor in this rich valley? They are farmers who do not have any land! We rebel against that, even if they call us communists, even if they kill us. We have to wake our people up, tell them to get organized, help them to change the situation.” Because of Carney’s work for social change, the Honduran government in 1979 revoked his citizenship and expelled him.

Carney relocated to a parish in Nicaragua and worked with campesinos there during the early years of the Sandinista government. He continued, however, to feel an inseparable tie with Honduras. In 1983 he became chaplain to a group of 96 Honduran guerrillas from the Central America Revolutionary Workers Party who were training in Nicaragua. Their mission was to return to Honduras and launch a fight for land reform and social justice.

The armed group entered Honduras in July 1983 and and began operating in the remote, mountainous region of the Olancho province. However, on Aug. 1 a pair of deserters alerted the Honduran Army to the group’s presence. The military immediately launched Operation Patuca to locate and capture the guerrillas, and over the course of two months they were handily defeated by Honduran troops with U.S. logistic support. Most members of the group were killed, captured, deserted or died of starvation; as many as 70 may have been executed.

On Sept. 19, 1983 the Honduran military held a press conference to publicize its success to date in the Olancho counterinsurgency operation; it reported Carney’s participation with the group and displayed his religious vestments, chalice and bible, which had reportedly been found in an arms cache. On Sept. 21, a Honduran Army spokesman announced the priest had been killed during a combat operation three days earlier; however, the following day a spokesman revised that account, saying Carney, who was suffering from exhaustion caused by malnutrition, died while attempting to flee Honduran troops.

Murdered by Military

Since that time, Carney’s family and Honduran human rights investigators have sought to determine the fate of the priest, whose body was never found. Despite the official explanation of death by starvation, press accounts at the time and declassified U.S. government documents present conflicting and inconclusive information. Eyewitness reports emerged that he was captured by the Honduran army, and possibly tortured and executed.

A primary source of information was Florencio Caballero, a former army officer in Battalion 3-16 who deserted in 1986 and was granted political asylum in Canada. Caballero, in interviews with the Carney family and The New York Times, said Carney was taken to Aguacate, a military base operated by the CIA inside Honduras for the Nicaraguan Contras. He said execution orders came from the commander of the Honduran Armed Forces, Gen. Gustavo Álvarez Martínez, in the presence of a CIA officer, and that Carney was subsequently tortured and thrown alive out of a helicopter over the Honduran jungle.

jpg The hypothesis that Carney was captured by the Honduran military, and possibly tortured and executed, received further credence in 2002. In January of that year,  Lucas Aguilera of the Christian Democrat Party in Honduras stated publicly and later gave a sworn court statement that he had seen Carney alive in military detention in Olancho. In November, former U.S. Army Delta Force member Eric Haney, who claimed to have been involved in the Olancho operation, stated on a radio talk show that Carney had been killed during the operation and, according to a CIA agent he spoke with, that “… he was brutalized prior to his death, that the marks that were on his body had to have been inflicted while he was still alive.”

During their early efforts to discover the truth, members of the Carney family made numerous trips to Honduras, meeting with Honduran military and U.S. embassy officials, guerrilla prisoners, human rights activists and journalists. Honduran officials were tight-lipped, and the family’s frustrations increased as they realized that the U.S. government was no more forthcoming with information or willing to investigate further.

In the United States, family members contacted the White House, Congress, and the State Department, and also submitted Freedom of Information Act requests in 1983 and 1984. Although the family did receive some documents from the CIA, the Army, and the State and Defense departments, substantial portions were blacked out. Government agencies also withheld more than 300 requested documents under the guise of “national security.” The family continued to pursue the release of those documents that had been withheld, going so far as to file a lawsuit against 10 government agencies in 1988 under the FOIA and Privacy Acts to compel the release of requested records, but without success.
In the 1990s, requests for U.S. government information submitted by The Baltimore Sun and Honduran government representatives yielded some additional information regarding the Carney case. In 1997, the CIA and Defense Department released new, but heavily censored, documents to the Carney family and Honduran government officials. That same year, the CIA inspector general issued a classified report on an internal investigation into CIA activities in Honduras in the 1980s, including its knowledge of human rights abuses. The report was partially declassified the following year, but more than half of its text was blacked out.

Despite the trickle of U.S. government information over the past two decades, there is still no official answer to how Carney died and who was responsible. Declassified documents reveal that U.S. military and embassy personnel were involved in debriefing captured guerrillas, but deny any knowledge of Carney’s whereabouts. While the CIA adamantly denies any role in the Carney case, it does now acknowledge that the Honduran military may have captured and killed the priest. Nevertheless, it has failed to provide to Honduran investigators the detailed information that led the agency to reach that conclusion. The CIA has yet to respond to current Freedom of Information Act requests for information that may be hidden within the many blacked-out pages of its released documents.

The Carney family and Honduran human rights investigators continue to hope that the priest’s remains will one day be found. Investigators continue to locate secret burial sites and human remains dating back to the 1980s. As recently as January 2003, remains were found that were thought to be Carney’s but this was later proven not to be the case. The discovery of Carney’s remains would increase the possibility that the case could be prosecuted in Honduran courts.


in response to this article I added my thoughts on the NCT-SF site:

Who was James Carney?  He was a Jesuit missionary in Honduras who was known as Padre Guadalupe. He was a foreign missionary, but one of

James Carney teaching in an agricultural coop

the few who became incarnated into the reality of the people whom he served for which reason he took Honduran citizenship. He struggled to bring the gospel alive to a people who were the second poorest in the Americas, only slightly better off than the Haitians. The country was ruled by an elite that was wealthy and corrupt, supported by a military that took its cues from the US.

This was the time of the Nicaraguan contras, funded by illegal and covert  funds from a participation in the drug trade which provided funds for the purchase of arms, all without approval (officially) of the American government. A major military leader was Gen. Gustavo Álvarez Martínez, later promoted to dictator but ousted when he tread on too many military toes. Alvarez Martínez was trained in the US as one of the more infamous graduates of the School of the Americas, specialized in torture. He was linked to numerous anti-communist groups and was until his own assassination in 1989 just an all round nasty guy.

Honduras was (is) the classic banana republic – a country controlled by its own military for the benefit and protection of huge American agri-business groups like Dole and Standard Fruit (which had Álvarez Martínez listed as an “employee”).  James Carney supported growing popular peasant demands for land reform and redistribution.  Two other foreign priests, Ivan Betancourt from Colombia and Jerome Cypher, were also killed in Olancho in 1985 because of their support of agrarian reform. Carney’s pastoral work for justice caused him to be exiled from Honduras. While in exile he heard of a small resistance movement that intended to return to Honduras and Carney reasoned that if the official army of the country could have its military chaplains, then so could the people’s army and he returned with them as chaplain.  This might sound a bit naive for a missionary who was otherwise so clear and deliberate, but it speaks of the single determination that Carney had to work for justice inside Honduras from the perspective of the poor.

William Casey, the CIA director under Ronald Regan, directed CIA efforts in Honduras, through John Negroponte, the official ambassador who quickly befriended Gen. Gustavo Álvarez Martínez and together over-powered a weak civilian president Roberto Suazo Cordova. Negroponte and Álvarez Martínez converted Honduras into the major staging area for the Nicaraguan contras. Under American law the US military in Honduras had only an advisory role, but it was known that they were involved in combat operations far beyond the scope of their authority. Battalion 3-16 was basically a military death squad that Álvarez Martínez operated as his private army. It was to this group that Florencio Caballero belonged, until he officially ran afoul of his own buddies which caused him to seek and be granted “refugee status” in Canada. Caballero was not the only member of the Honduran military who was granted an expedited “refugee” status in Canada, only to later learn that they continued to work for the Honduran military by spying and harassing real Honduras refugees in Canada. It is Caballero who met with members of Carney’s family in Toronto and told them that he saw James Carney alive before he was tortured and then taken alive in a helicopter to be thrown out over the Rio Patuca along with other prisoners.  In those jungle-like conditions, their bodies would only last a few weeks. Graves were not necessary.

What is certain is that in the military camp called Aguacate, where Gen. Gustavo Álvarez Martínez did his dirty work, the American ambassador Negroponte was well known and the de facto man in charge.

On June 7, 1982 another important factor was beginning to make things even worse for Padre Guadalupe.  Ronald Regan and Pope John Paul II met in the Vatican Library for a lengthy meeting and cemented their “holy alliance” to use the Solidarity Movement in Poland as a wedge to eventually topple Russian domination in eastern Europe. William Casey was responsible to help funnel assistance through the Pope to the Solidarity people in Poland. While both Casey and John Paul II were plotting their covert activities in eastern Europe, they also had mutual concerns in Latin America. The Rockefeller report in the late 1960’s had much earlier identified the Church as a potential source of opposition to US interests. John Paul II also opposed church people who were getting involved in “temporal” affairs against the interests of the ruling elites – staunch conservative catholics of sorts.  The worst example is John Paul II’s betrayal of Oscar Romero which justified the assassination of this leftist archbishop too much identified with the oppressed.  William Casey and John Paul II had an understanding that the Vatican would not support activist priests and bishops in Latin America who were suspect of links to “liberation theology” and involved in popular struggles against authority.

Padre Guadalupe was captured alive along with other Hondurans who intended to form a small resistance army within Honduras.  They were tracked by American army surveillance and captured by what is supposed to have been a joint Honduran-American military force. Had all the prisoners been Honduran peasants they could have been easily “disappeared” as this was the specialty of  Álvarez Martínez, but the capture of Padre Guadalupe was another unforeseen complication. He was American and a well known priest within Honduras. Had he witnessed the involvement of American forces in an illicit military action he would be a potential threat or embarrassment to American interests in the region.

Álvarez Martínez would not have disposed of Padre Guadalupe without the explicit order from John Negroponte.  Later as the Carney family pressed for information about his disappearance and death, the authorities presented them with Guadalupe’s bible and mass kit, as if to say “We had him but this is all you get back”.  Negroponte would not have authorized the execution of an American priest without knowing that he had authority from the devout Catholic in charge of the CIA – William Casey. Casey would not have authorized the execution of  James Carney – “Padre Guadalupe” – without an assurance that this would not cause displeasure to the Pontiff or could upset the “Holy Alliance”  forged on June 7, 1982 in the Vatican library.

The CIA was able to do its work in Poland with the assistance of the Vatican and the use of church mechanisms including the transfer of funds. At the same time the Vatican was assisted in its control of dissident clergy who were suspected of leftist leanings because of their “preferential option for the poor”.  Both the American government through John Negroponte and the local Honduran church leadership which traditionally to this day is aligned with the small ruling oligarchy served to help Gen. Gustavo Álvarez Martínez in his quest for power through the use of his death squads like Battalion 3-16 until the General achieved total power as President dictator.

While John Paul II, Ronald Regan and Álvarez Martínez have moved on to their heavenly reward, some of the other principal actors in this tragedy are still on the scene and influential in national security operations. Negroponte was prominent during the Bush administration and was ambassador to Iraq 2004-2005 directing a diplomatic staff of 3000  in that war ravaged nation. It is unlikely that the American government with its current involvement in the overthrow of the democratically elected President of Honduras would permit the exposure of its activities in Honduras during the 1980’s. That would make things just a bit too obvious.

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