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Glimpses of the 'disappeared'

National GovernmentKidnappingColleges and UniversitiesGovernmentDeath

The student leader who would not bend

Eduardo Lanza, a 24-year-old medical student at the National Autonomous University of Honduras, saw dozens of fellow students arrested and beaten by police.

Instead of remaining silent, he incited hundreds of students to block Tegucigalpa streets and bridges to protest government-sanctioned violence.

"I pleaded with Eduardo to please stop his protests," recalled his mother, Gertrudis Becerra. "People were disappearing, and I told him that the police could arrest him, too, and kill him.

"He said he could not stop speaking. He would not let them scare him into silence."

As Gertrudis Becerra feared, her son became a target for Battalion 316. He was abducted on Aug. 1, 1982. The president pTC of the University Reform Front has not been seen since.

Pictured at left, his parents, Roberto Becerra and Gertrudis Lanza Becerra, hold a photo of their missing son at the National Autonomous University of Honduras.

Lanza was kidnapped about 10 p.m. as he and two friends drank beer at The Bachelor's Bar in Tegucigalpa.

Army officers stormed into the bar and ordered the women to leave. The men were taken into custody to begin mandatory military duty, eye-witnesses said. As the prisoners walked -- screaming in protest -- onto a school bus, Lanza was pulled from the line by two plainclothes officers. They forced him at gunpoint into a white Toyota truck.

Posters with Lanza's picture still hang on almost all the 1950s-style high-rises at the university where he studied. Graffiti on the walls says "Eduardo Lanza Vive," Spanish for "Eduardo Lanza Lives."

On a recent visit to the campus, Gertrudis Becerra, who wears her gray-and-black hair in a thick ponytail down her back, ran her fingers over black letters that spelled her son's name.

"I was very proud of him," she whispered.

On June 11, 1981, 14 years ago today, university professor Tomas Nativi was in bed with his wife when six members of Battalion 316, wearing black ski masks, burst in.

Nativi, the founder of the radical leftist group People's Revolutionary Union (URP), was kidnapped and never seen again. He was 33.

Behind his wife, Bertha Oliva (right), director of the Committee of the Relatives of the Disappeared, are photos of people who disappeared at the hands of Battalion 316.

When armed battalion members stormed into their home, Nativi begged them not to hurt his wife, who was six months pregnant.

"I told him, 'Tomas, don't put your hands up. These are not officials, they are delinquents.'" Oliva recalled.

"He looked at me," she said, "and put his hands down."

The hooded men pushed Nativi out the front door and into a car. Oliva grabbed a shirt from the closet and ran to cover her husband's bare chest.

"One of those animals would not let me get to him," she said, tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Tomas looked at me, smiled, and said, 'Be strong, my love.'"

Saul Godinez, an elementary school teacher, was abducted on July 22, 1982, by Honduran military officials as he rode his motorcycle to school.

The quiet, serious man with a round face and thick, wavy hair has not been seen since. He was 32.

Above, his wife, Enmidida Escoto, and daughter, Emma Patricia, stand on the bridge where it is believed that Godinez was abducted. Escoto holds a photo of her husband.

Witnesses told human rights investigators that Godinez was pulled over by a motorcycle police officer near Choluteca, in southern Honduras. Three men jumped from a van in front of him and forced Godinez inside at gunpoint.

It is believed that Godinez was abducted because of his repeated demands for elimination of a $30 fee for books and supplies. The fee effectively prevented the poor from attending classes. Godinez had been planning a strike.

His wife rushed to all the police posts in the area. Officers teased her that her husband had probably run off with another woman.

"I told them, 'No, that is not something my husband would do,' " she said. "It was cruel."

For weeks after the kidnapping, his wife went to the morgue to look at every unidentified body.

"It sounds terrible, but I wanted him to be there," she said. "I wanted to find him, even if he was dead, so I could stop suffering."

Maria Concepcion Gomez, who works as a secretary, recalls her search for German (pronounced "HERR-mon") Perez Aleman, a union leader and the father of her two eldest children.

About 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 18, 1982, Perez was beaten and arrested at a bus stop.

At the police station, officers said they had not seen Perez. He wasn't at the hospital, nurses told her. Gomez went to the morgue. But her husband wasn't there, either.

"He was disappeared," she said.

A former member of Battalion 316, Florencio Caballero, said that he participated in Perez's kidnapping and confirms that Perez was murdered.

The union leader had become a target of the battalion because he had made several trips to neighboring El Salvador. Leftists who traveled to El Salvador were suspected of smuggling guns to the Salvadoran rebels.

But Perez was not a gunrunner, Gomez said. He traveled to El Salvador to visit his dying father, and then to bury him.

The Honduran government concurs. A 1993 government report, "The Facts Speak for Themselves," said: "This disappearance may well have been a mistake. ... The purpose behind Perez Aleman's trips was apparently not to make contact with Salvadoran guerrillas, but to take care of family matters."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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