[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
6834: `Persecutors' blended in as loners in S. Florida (fwd)
From: nozier <email@example.com>
Posted at 6:30 a.m. EST Monday, January 29, 2001 Miami Herald
`Persecutors' blended in as loners in S. Florida
BY ALFONSO CHARDY
One was a bricklayer. Another was a taxi driver. There was a fruit
picker and even a security guard. Their South Florida neighbors called
them loners,ordinary and quiet. Yet all had one thing in common, the
governmentsays: a violent and secret past as killers and kidnappers.
That past has come back to haunt 15 people whom federalauthorities now
accuse of being human rights ``persecutors'' --suspected of murdering
and torturing perhaps hundreds of people in their home countries of
Angola,Haiti, Honduras and Peru.
They were rounded up between June and November as part of a landmark
but little-noticed policy shift by the U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service, which -- under tougher immigration laws passed
in 1996 -- can now remove foreign nationals who ordered, incited,
assisted or otherwise participated in the persecution of others. The
program came to light Jan. 17 when the INS deported the first of the 15
detainees. Those detained and ordered deported -- 13 men and two women
-- had been living quietly in South Florida for the last decade. From
Fort Pierce in St.Lucie County to Kendale Lakes in Miami-Dade, INS
agents began arresting the suspected human rights violators last year.
Most are being held for deportation at the Krome Detention Center in
western Miami-Dade. Two, a Honduran and a Haitian, have been deported,
INS spokeswoman Patricia Mancha said.
While the INS routinely detains and deports foreign nationals accused
of committing serious crimes, the 15 were in a different class
altogether. Most were sought for allegedly participating in ``dirty
wars'' against opponents of the regimes they served. They sought refuge
in the United States -- some arriving on their own and others perhaps
encouraged or assisted by former U.S. officials.
One of them, a former senior Haitian security officer, lived on Grant
Street in Hollywood, where he left behind what appeared to be a memo
from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, praising him as an ``honest and
professional officer of the highest integrity.''
Neighbors of the ``persecutors'' called most of them hardworking people
improve their life in a new land. ``Are you sure you have the right
person?'' wondered Kito Philip, a 32-year-old neighbor of Gilnor Castor,
a Haitian, who lived in a small apartment in Lake Park in northern Palm
Beach County. ``I know Gilnor, and he is just another refugee from Haiti
trying to live a better life in America, like all of us.''
Yet the INS said the 15 belonged to once-feared security organizations
suspected of targeting dissidents -- organizations such as the Front for
the Advancement and Progress of the Haitian People, better known as
FRAPH, or Honduras' Battalion 316. The suspects, the INS said, tortured
``over 300 people''and delivered some of them to executioners. The INS
did not provide specific allegations against the suspects, except in the
case of Juan Angel Hernández Lara, a suspected Battalion 316 member
deported earlier this month. The battalion operated in Honduras in the
1980s when the United States financed a war against the Sandinista
regime in neighboring Nicaragua. An INS statement said Hernández Lara,
37, admitted belonging to a group responsible for the kidnapping and the
``forced disappearance of 184 people,'' and acknowledged ``kicking,
punching, placing pins under the fingernails and plastic
bags on the heads of four victims who were later killed.''
But to neighbors and friends of Hernández Lara in West Palm Beach and
Lake Worth, he was an ordinary worker.
``He laid bricks to build driveways,'' said a man who declined to be
identified but who knew Hernández Lara when -- soon after arriving --
the Honduran boarded in a house on Avenida Hermosa Street just south of
downtown in West Palm Beach.
`DECENT AND HONEST'
``He seemed a decent and honest man,'' said the man, who owns the house
on Avenida Hermosa Street where Hernández Lara first lived after
illegally crossing the Mexican border at Brownsville, Texas, on Jan. 4,
1989. Hernández Lara traveled straight to West Palm Beach, where there
is a sizable Honduran community and where he apparently had friends and
family. Over the years, Hernández Lara lived in half a dozen low-rent
apartments. He was relatively well known among the Honduran and
Salvadoran customers of Cafe Salvadoreño, a small Salvadoran restaurant
in the Valley Forge Center strip mall on South Dixie
Highway just south of Palmetto Street. ``He came here to take his
meals,'' one of the waitresses at Cafe Salvadoreño said.
Within the last year, Hernández Lara moved to Perry Avenue near Lake
Worth Road in Lake Worth, where federal agents arrested him last June
after an immigration judge ruled him inadmissible because of his alleged
human rights violations.
When Hernández Lara landed back in Honduras, he was quickly hauled into
court in Tegucigalpa to answer questions in a related case and testified
thathe had made up the story about belonging to Battalion 316. But
another formerSouth Florida neighbor said Hernández Lara once told her
that he had been a guerrilla fighter and that his group ``executed
people in the hills.''
Besides Hernández Lara and Castor, at least four other suspects had
addresses in Palm Beach County -- one in Lake Worth, one in Boynton
Beach and two in Delray Beach. A fifth suspect lived in Fort Pierce,
where he apparently worked as a fruit picker.
Two other suspects, both from Haiti, had homes in Broward County -- one
in Fort Lauderdale, the other in Hollywood. The Hollywood suspect,
Jackson Joanis, is perhaps the most prominent. Commander of the
Port-au-Prince police investigations branch, Joanis, 42, was once a top
aide to Lt.Col. Michel Francois, former head of the Port-au-Prince
police. On at least two occasions in the early 1990s, the United States
signaled deep displeasure about Joanis over alleged links to drug
trafficking and a coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in
1991. In October 1993, when Joanis was still in Haiti, the U.S.
government froze his assets along with those of more than 100 other
Haitian security officers who Washington believed had taken part in the
coup or aided the de facto government that replaced Aristide.
A man who answered the door at Joanis' home in Hollywood laughed when
told that Joanis' bank account had been frozen. ``He had no money at
all,'said the man, who declined to be identified. ``He had to drive a
taxi in Miami just to make ends meet.''
The man said he had documents that Joanis left behind. One of them
appeared to be a memo dated Sept. 14, 1992, from the U.S. military
attache's office in Port-au-Prince to the U.S. consul in the neighboring
Dominican Republic, requesting assistance in renewing a visa for Joanis'
``Capt. Joanis is Commander of the Port-au-Prince Police's
Investigations Branch with whom this embassy works closely on security
matters of concern to the entire American community in Haiti,'' the
document says. ``Capt. Joanis has proven himself to always be responsive
to our needs, even in the most difficult of circumstances, and we
consider him to be an honest and professional officer of
the highest integrity.''
At least five more ``persecutors'' were believed to have had addresses
in Miami-Dade, according to public records, including Rafael Alberto
Romero, 54, of Peru. Records show that Romero lived in a one-story house
on Southwest 71st Lane near Sunset Drive and Southwest 137th Avenue. A
woman next door, who did not want to be identified, remembered Romero as
a ``quiet man'' who lived alone. She said Romero told her that he was a
caretaker for the owner of the house, who actually lived in Peru. She
said he also told her that he worked as a security guard in Miami.