Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Caribbean and Central American Affairs (Cochran)14

The Honduran memorandum expresses Honduras’ interest in obtaining six AT–6 airplanes, and the Ambassador made it clear that he wanted a reply explaining why export licenses were refused (should they be refused). It is unfortunate that the issue is drawn in a case not clearly involving combat aircraft (experts can argue interminably as to whether an AT–6 is, or is not, a tactical plane). The request nevertheless squarely poses the dilemma: which is to prevail, our [Page 961] policy of arms standardization or our refusal to assist non-democratic régimes?

1. Should we hold that the arms standardization program is to prevail, there is no further point to our private diatribes against the dictators. If Honduras is to receive AT–6 planes, we must also make them available to Somoza in Nicaragua. To supply military equipment to either régime will not, at this late date, convince Carías or Somoza of our love; but it will serve to disillusion the peoples of both countries, and of others, as to the purity of our purposes, or the sincerity of our devotion to democratic principles.

Is Honduras a dictatorship? Less so, than the tyranny of Somoza. Some political prisoners have been released. The press is freer than a year ago. But it is still true that the people have not been called upon to elect a President since 1932. Similarly, the 1936 “elections” for a Constitutional Assembly (whose members later became the Chamber of Deputies under the new Constitution of that year) were uncontested by the “Liberal” (opposition) party; which also refused to vote in the 1942 congressional elections. Thus, the legislature is a rubber stamp, and there is no real freedom to criticize or to oppose the Carías régime. Carías has promised to retire in 1948 (so did Martínez15 in El Salvador, only to ignore this commitment). There is no legal and effective way for the people to turn out a government of which they disapprove. It cannot be seriously held that there is freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of organization or real freedom of the press.

It is unfortunate that Honduras should arise as the test case, because it has no history or tradition of democratic practice—on the contrary, its story is one of turbulence and selfish demagogues, resorting freely to revolution to attain powder. Its peace has come from its dictator. But that peace has been the peace of oppression. And whether or not democracy is the answer to Honduras’ political problems, in the light of its political, economic, cultural and educational backwardness, it must be remembered that whatever we do in this case, we must also do in Nicaragua, where conditions are quite different and where there is a widespread and an organized demand for freedom.

2. Should we hold that “no aid to the dictators” is to be the overriding consideration, we are true to the principles which made our country great. We are true to the postulates for which we said we were fighting in World Wars I and II. We are true to the hopes which so many oppressed peoples of the world have placed in us.

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At the same time, we risk impairing the policy of standardization. Countries refused arms by us may obtain them elsewhere. They may refuse our military missions, and turn to other countries for them. We may split the hemisphere, and find ourselves with Argentine military men and arms in Nicaragua, Honduras, the Dominican Republic. But if it is true that democracy and peace are indivisible, we must still hew to the line of the former, or our hopes for the latter will be illusory. And a hemisphere solidarity based on playing bedfellow with the arrant dictators, such as Trujillo17 and Somoza, is a patent fraud.

Continuance of the “no aid to dictators” policy may not prevent the tyrants from obtaining arms elsewhere. But it will avoid the shooting of Dominicans, Nicaraguans and Hondurans with equipment supplied by the United States.

Furthermore, nothing could so effectively drive the downtrodden masses of the hemisphere to turn to Russia, as our abandonment of them. To support the dictators is to deny our sympathy and our help to every liberal movement, to every cry for freedom. To support the dictators is not to deliver the masses of this continent to Communism by default; it is to force the peoples to turn to Russia as their only hope. That would really “split the hemisphere”.

It has been pointed out that our policy to date has not effected the removal of a single dictator. To that, I reply: the policy is young, and almost unknown; it has not yet been fully and publicly applied; but neither has it been ineffective—Somoza is badly worried, Trujillo is seriously alarmed, and Carías has freed his political prisoners, relaxed his hold on the press. Time and its effective application will make the policy even more efficacious. And to give planes to Honduras now is to abandon the policy upon its second test.

I note further that to refuse aid to Honduras parallels our publicly-announced policy in Europe, where we have suspended assistance to Poland because of that country’s failure to hold free elections; and where we have made our attitude quite clear in similar situations in Rumania, etc. Thus, consistency also counsels our continuing to refuse aid to the dictators in this hemisphere.

I do not see that those so-called realists who ever counsel expediency have accomplished much to prevent wars. At least, the injection of a little idealism and principle into our foreign policy can do no worse.

I recommend that the Honduran request be rejected, in the terms of the attached draft.18

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To support this recommendation, I quote from Secretary Byrnes’ recent testimony on the arms standardization bill: he said that approval of the bill will be an indication … “That the United States desires to go forward with such collaboration subject to overriding considerations of our general foreign policy—particularly our support of the United Nations …”. He also said that activities under the bill will be governed by the basic objectives of our policy of … “assistance to our sister American nations … in progressively greater achievement of political, economic and cultural objectives of a democratic society.”

W[illiam] P. C[ochran, Jr.]
  1. Addressed to the Assistant Secretary of State for American Republic Affairs (Braden) and to the Director of the Office of American Republic Affairs (Briggs).
  2. Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, President of El Salvador, 1931–1944. For documentation on the 1944 revolution in El Salvador and the United States policy of recognition, see Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. vii, pp. 1087 ff.
  3. Rafael L. Trujillo, President of the Dominican Republic.
  4. Not printed.