Memorandum by the Minister in Honduras (Keena), Temporarily in Washington
In compliance with instruction No. 186 of April 19, 1937, to the Legation at Tegucigalpa, I called on President Carias on April 29, 1937, presented to him the views of the Department, as expressed in that instruction, and asked that assurances be given me by him that the American aviators connected with the Military Aviation School would not be employed in active military operations within or without the boundaries of Honduras.
The President said that as regards military operations anywhere beyond the boundaries of Honduras he could give the most unqualified assurances. He referred to the “attack” on the schooner Stella H. in British Honduran waters by a Honduran Army plane piloted by an American aviator and stated that the aviator in that instance had acted without instructions from the Government. Two planes had been sent out to find and keep track of the Stella H. which had landed General Umaña and a handful of revolutionists near Tela. One of the pilots discovered the Stella H. in British Honduran waters and zoomed down over the schooner several times and fired off a machine gun for the purpose of frightening the Captain who was alone on the schooner but making no attempt to injure either the Captain or the vessel. Instructions have been given all aviators [Page 600]connected with the Military Aviation School which will prevent the recurrence of any similar incident.
As regards the use of the American aviators of the Military Aviation School in assisting the Government troops in suppressing disturbances of the public order, such as those which have taken place at times in Honduras during the past eighteen months and which he claimed could not properly be characterized as revolutionary, the President said frankly that he could not, at the present time, promise he would not call on the air force piloted by American aviators if an attempt should be made to overthrow his government by armed force. He emphasized that if he did give such an assurance, and it became known, as it doubtless would, his political opponents would be unwarrantedly encouraged to try to foment a revolution against his government which might mean a considerable period of disorder in Honduras. He said that as matters stood he anticipated no uprising against his government from any source and consequently foresaw no occasion for the employment of the American aviators of the Military Aviation School in active military operations and he was very confident that those conditions would continue. He said that he was hopeful that within six or eight months after the completion of the Military Aviation School now under construction it would be possible for the Government to rely entirely on Honduran aviators trained in that school by its American instructors.
(Note): The school buildings are being constructed at a cost of some $60,000 and should be ready for occupancy in August. Equipment for the practical instruction of Honduran cadets in the construction principles and details of airplane engines and equipment, and in measures necessary to proper upkeep, has been purchased in the United States and will be installed in the school as soon as the buildings are completed. In the opinion of the undersigned, the Honduran Government since the inception of the plan for an aviation school, about one year ago, has given its best attention toward getting the school organized and ready for practical operation. During the course of this and though without any establishment for general training for aviators, three Honduran cadets have been given sufficient instruction in flying so that they might now be trusted to make solo flights. They will not be allowed to do so, however, until they have had shop and general instruction to fit them to take care of a plane if it got into difficulties during the course of a solo flight, I believe the President is sincere in wishing to build up a corps of Honduran aviators to fly the Government planes and that efforts to that end will be continued. My opinion would be that by the end of the year or shortly thereafter it should be possible for the Honduran Government to man its planes with Honduran aviators to meet any emergency which might arise.[Page 601]
I think that if the President of Honduras is pressed, at the present time, to promise that he will not avail himself of the services of the American aviators connected with the Military Aviation School in case a disturbance of the public order, whether revolutionary or not, should occur, he will take steps to replace them in the School by instructors of some other nationality. As has been pointed out in previous despatches from the Legation, this might lead to regrettable consequences. Colonel Pate, Military Attaché of the Legation, during the course of his visit to Tegucigalpa in March of this year, went over all of the Legation’s correspondence in regard to the question of the American aviators in the employ of the Honduran Government. He expressed himself as hopeful that the issue, which appears to be a passing one, would not be forced to a point where the Honduran Government, in order to prevent the immobilization of its air force until cadets to fly the planes could be trained, would find it necessary to employ a non-American personnel for the School in replacement of Mr. William Brooks and the other Americans who are now in course of establishing it. I suggested—and Colonel Pate agreed—that he write the War Department to that effect as a matter of record.