Angel Manfredo Velásquez Rodríguez
Angel Manfredo Velásquez Rodríguez, a 35-year-old graduate student, teacher, father of three and leader of a socialist national student union, was abducted Sept. 12, 1981 from a street in downtown Tegucigalpa. Eyewitnesses saw seven heavily armed men in civilian clothes, two of whom were identified as Sgt. José Isaías Vilorio and Lt. Flores Murillo, push Velásquez into a white Ford without license plates. Velásquez was never seen again. A few days after the abduction, members of the Velásquez family filed a habeas corpus petition and continued to pursue legal remedies in the Honduran courts in 1982, 1983 and 1984. Family members also sought aid from the U.S. Embassy, but without success.
The family also petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which deemed the case eligible for referral to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to decide if the Honduran government had violated Velasquez’s rights to life, personal security and freedom. Florencio Caballero, a former Battalion 3-16 interrogator, testified before the court and gave an account of the kidnapping, as described to him by Lt. Murillo. He said they took Velásquez to INDUMIL, a military complex that served as a secret detention and interrogation center. There he was tortured and later turned over to an execution team, who took him outside Tegucigalpa, dismembered his body and buried the remains in different places.
Another witness before the court, Leopoldo Aguilar Villalobos, said he was abducted on Sept. 29, 1981 by men identifying themselves as members of the armed forces. He was blindfolded, taken to an unknown place, tortured and held in a solitary room. Through a hole in the door to an adjoining room he heard moaning and the voice of a pained man, who identified himself as Manfredo Velásquez and asked for help.
In 1988 the court condemned Honduras for failing to protect Velásquez’s basic human rights and ordered the state to pay reparations to his wife and children. To date, no individuals have been successfully prosecuted in Honduras in connection with Velásquez’s abduction, disappearance, torture and death.
In 2002, Zenaida and Ricardo Velásquez, sister and son of Manfredo Velásquez, joined a U.S. civil lawsuit against former Honduran military intelligence chief Lt. Col. Juan Evangelista López Grijalba for his responsibility for the disappearance, torture and murder of Manfredo. In March 2006, after finding him liable for the charges, a federal judge in Miami ordered López Grijalba to pay Zenaida a total of $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages and Ricardo a total of $6 million. Lawyers in the case have offered to turn over their evidence to the Honduran attorney general so that he may pursue criminal charges against López Grijalba.
Zenaida Velásquez helped found the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) in 1982 to provide support to families whose loved ones had been abducted. In 1987, after receiving several threats herself, Velásquez left Honduras and sought asylum in the United States. She is now a U.S. citizen and works as a public health educator in San Jose, Calif.
For more information, read The Quest for Justice: Efforts to Prosecute Honduran Human Rights Abusers and A Step Toward Justice: Honduran Military Leader Found Guilty of Human Rights Abuses.