Thayer, now a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, Spain, said that meeting with Hondurans about human rights abuses "was part of my job. I recall having meetings like that, but I can't recall that specific meeting."

Oliva still fumes over the meeting. In an interview in Tegucigalpa, she said that the embassy official acted as if they were fabricating the disappearances of their relatives.

"He was very cold, very cold," she said, pursing her lips. "Any kindness was gone. He did not even smile at us."

Roberto Becerra, father of the student Eduardo Lanza, said he came away from the meeting with a hopeless feeling.

"We felt like we were screaming in the desert. No one heard us. No one would help us."

In at least one case, Negroponte was confronted with evidence of abuse that he could not ignore -- the arrest and torture in July 1982 of journalist Oscar Reyes and his wife, Gloria.

Reyes, a founder of the journalism school at the National Autonomous University of Honduras, was openly sympathetic to the Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua and had written numerous newspaper columns criticizing the Honduran military.

The abduction of the Reyeses sparked newspaper stories and raucous student protests. The Reyeses said they were locked in secret cell for a week, and beaten and tortured with electric shocks.

At the U.S. Embassy, there was fear that if the story got to the United States it might damage carefully assembled public support for the Central America program operating out of Honduras.

Cresencio S. Arcos, then the embassy press spokesman, alerted Negroponte that the Honduran military had abducted the Reyeses.

"If they do this guy, then we're in trouble," Arcos warned. "We cannot let this guy get hurt. ... It would be a disaster for our policy.

"The ambassador did approach [General] Alvarez about this to manifest his concern," Arcos said.

The case clearly shows that Negroponte knew of the Reyeses' abduction and that the ambassador acted in such cases when he felt compelled to do so.

Reyes and his wife were released from the clandestine jail after a week. They were taken before a public court and sentenced to six months in prison. Two weeks before their sentences ended, they were allowed to leave for the United States on condition that they keep quiet about the torture they endured.

That condition was laid down personally by Alvarez, said the Reyeses, who now live in Vienna, Va.

The U.S. Embassy also kept quiet publicly about the Reyes case. It was not mentioned in the human rights report for 1982, even though it was widely covered in the Honduran press and illustrated the Honduran military's violation of human rights on several counts: illegal abduction, secret incarceration, torture and suppression of press freedom.

Instead, the 1982 report asserted: "No incident of official interference with the media has been recorded for several years."

Negroponte's aides at the embassy told The Sun that they knew about serious human rights abuses by the Honduran military, and that the violence was a subject of constant discussion.

One of those aides was a junior political officer, Rick Chidester, who was assigned in 1982 to gather information for the embassy's annual report on human rights, a task that usually fell to a junior officer.

Chidester, now 43 and a private businessman, said that while in Honduras, he interviewed human rights advocates and journalists who provided him with information that the Honduran military was illegally detaining, torturing and executing people.