The Secretary of State to the Minister in Honduras (Lay)

No. 90

Sir: Reference is made to the Legation’s confidential despatch No. 151, dated December 13, 1930,13 relating to the failure of negotiations between the Honduran Government and the California Arms Company for the purchase of certain military equipment, and the resultant renewed request of the Honduran Government that it be permitted to acquire that material from the Government of the United States. The Department has inquired of the War Department whether these supplies are available, but pending receipt of its reply desires to advise you as follows:

In February, 1925,14 in response to the request of the Honduran Government that it be permitted to purchase certain arms and ammunition from this Government, the Department replied that it would be disposed to arrange for the sale of the articles requested after receiving a communication stating that the Honduran Government planned to organize a Constabulary, and would give its consideration to the appointment of foreign instructors. The assurance requested was readily given and, basing its action on Article II of the Central American Convention for the Limitation of Armaments signed at Washington February 7, 1923,15 the Government of Honduras engaged [Page 584] an American Army officer as technical director for the organization of a Honduran National Guard. Necessary legislation for the creation of that body failed of accomplishment, however, and after making partial payment to the American officer in question of his first year’s salary the matter of the creation of the National Guard appears to have been definitely abandoned. In the meantime the Government of the United States sold to the Government of Honduras 3,000 rifles, 10 machine guns and 250,000 cartridges—other purchases of ammunition bringing the total amount up to somewhat more than 2,000,000 rounds.

In January, 1927, the Honduran Government notified the American Legation at Tegucigalpa that it desired to purchase in the United States 5,000 rifles, 50 machine guns, and 1,000,000 cartridges, and it appears that in fact 10 machine guns and 500,000 cartridges were thereafter obtained from the California Arms Company. In July, 1927, the Honduran Government stated that the contract entered into with the California Arms Company had been cancelled, and inquired whether the Government of the United States would sell to it 2,000 or 3,000 rifles and other material. As a result there was sold to the Honduran Government by the War Department 2,000 rifles, 50 machine guns and 200,000 rounds of ammunition.16

Should the Government of the United States at this time furnish the Government of Honduras the 2,000 rifles, 25 machine guns, and 1,000,000 rounds of ammunition requested in the communication submitted with your despatch under acknowledgment, a total of 7,000 rifles, 4,000,000 cartridges, and 95 machine guns will have been acquired by the Government of Honduras within a period of approximately five years subsequent to the ratification of the Convention for the Limitation of Armaments, whereunder the Government of Honduras agreed to maintain a military establishment not to exceed 2,500 men. It may safely be assumed that important quantities of war material apart from those just enumerated also have entered Honduras during the same period.

The Department understands it to be the practice of the Government of Honduras, whenever any serious emergency arises, to distribute its official military equipment to civilian supporters, who thereafter retain the arms thus furnished; and that in consequence it finds itself from time to time with a depleted supply of military equipment and confronted by a populace more or less under arms. While the Government of the United States considers that it has been warranted, as an act of international comity, in lending such support to the duly constituted Government of Honduras as may have been implied by the sale to it of surplus military supplies from the stock of the War Department, [Page 585] it cannot longer ignore the fact that the armament thus furnished has been permitted to pass from official control, to the danger of the domestic peace of the Republic and the tranquillity of its neighbors.

You are directed to inform the appropriate authorities of the foregoing and to express the hope of this Government that measures may be taken for the correction of the situation described. It is believed that the most efficacious action which could be taken by the Government of Honduras for this purpose would be the establishment of a National Guard, as provided in Article II of the Convention for the Limitation of Armaments signed at Washington February 7, 1923. Although the advantages of a carefully selected and trained non-partisan National Guard are readily apparent, the creation of such an agency for the maintenance of peace and the preservation of order has an immediate importance in view of the impending conclusion of the Protocol whereunder the long existing dispute between the Republics of Honduras and Nicaragua with respect to their common frontier is to be definitively settled.17 As is well known, the frontier region between the two Republics, largely because the exact location of the boundary line has not been mutually agreed upon, is exposed almost without restriction to the activities of marauding groups of bandits, and other undesirable activities. When the boundary dispute has been settled it will be incumbent upon both Governments to assume sovereignty over their respective territories and to maintain order therein.

You may say that the Government of the United States would welcome assurances by the Government of Honduras of its intention to establish a regular disciplined force at an early date. There would, of course, be no further objection on the part of this Government to the sale of such quantities of arms and munitions as might be necessary once such an organization were established.

You may clearly state to the appropriate authorities, however, that the Government of the United States does not feel free to sell to the Government of Honduras or to facilitate its purchase in the commercial market of this country, further large quantities of war material in the absence of satisfactory evidence that such material will be retained in the possession of the Government of Honduras.

Very truly yours,

Henry L. Stimson
  1. Not printed.
  2. See telegram No. 18, February 6, 1925, to the Chargé in Honduras, Foreign Relations, 1925, vol. ii, p. 320.
  3. Conference on Central American Affairs, p. 339.
  4. Correspondence not printed.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1930, vol. i, pp. 361 ff.