"[The United States] had an embassy staff here that was larger than most other embassies in Latin America," Rosenthal said. "If they say they did not know, that is bad, because it would mean they were incompetent."

Evidence came from other sources.

Efrain Diaz Arrivillaga, then a delegate in the Honduran Congress and a voice of dissent in the prevailing atmosphere of intimidation, said he spoke several times to Negroponte about ,, the military's human rights abuses.

Diaz said that in meetings at the U.S. Embassy and at social occasions, he rebuked Negroponte for the U.S. government's refusal to take a stand against the repression.

The Honduran legislator said Negroponte reproached him for refusing to take a strong stand against Communists who were trying to seize control of Honduras.

"I remember Negroponte told me, 'You and others, what you are proposing is to let communism take over this country and over the region,' " Diaz said.

"The most important thing to him was to win public support for the presence of the U.S. military in Honduras," Diaz said. "Their [the U.S.] attitude was one of tolerance and silence. They needed Honduras to loan its territory more than they were concerned about innocent people being killed."

Accusations against the military also came from former insiders.

In August 1982, Col. Leonidas Torres Arias, ousted chief of intelligence for the Honduran military, issued a public warning about Battalion 316. In a news conference in Mexico City, he told reporters about "a death squad operating in Honduras led by armed forces chief General Gustavo Alvarez."

The story made headlines in Mexico and across Central America. reporter from the Honduran newspaper El Tiempo asked Negroponte about the colonel's allegations.

Said Negroponte in an article that appeared Oct. 16, 1982: "Democracy is being consolidated in this country. The armed forces have supported that process. It was the armed forces that turned over power to the civilian constitutional leaders of Honduras. So, I have a lot of difficulty taking those kinds of accusations seriously."

The evidence was also to be found in the streets of Tegucigalpa.

Each week, hundreds marched through the streets of the capital demanding the release of the disappeared. Sometimes they marched past the U.S. Embassy, a hulking concrete complex on Paz Avenue.

The Committee of the Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH)turned to the U.S. government for help. On June 13, 1983, COFADEH addressed an open letter to Richard Stone, President Reagan's special envoy to Central America, complaining that the Honduran military was holding dissidents in clandestine jails.

"More than 40 people have been illegally arrested and tortured," the letter said. "Some have never been heard from since their arrest."

The letter was published in El Tiempo, one of the largest newspapers in Honduras. The U.S. government never responded to the committee's pleas.

In an interview, Stone said that he did not recall the letter.

Spurned at the embassy

In October 1983, members of COFADEH visited the U.S. Embassy to ask for help. They said they met with Scott Thayer, a junior political officer assigned to monitor human rights. Among the relatives who attended was Bertha Oliva, whose husband, Tomas Nativi, had been missing for more than two years.

Also there was Zenaida Velasquez, whose brother, Manfredo, had been missing for more than two years.