Holland files, lot 57 D 295, “Honduras”

The Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Holland) to the Ambassador in Honduras (Willauer)1


Dear Whitey : I am devoting this letter wholly to the subject of additional military equipment which you desire be added to the grant military assistance program we are conducting for Honduras. I have requested that answers be obtained to the other questions raised in your letter of June 7, 19542 and will send them to you as soon as they become available.

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We are awaiting a formal response from the Pentagon to your despatches Nos. 5153 and 5174 which recommended: (a) that the Honduran Army unit being provided with grant assistance be activated by early September; (b) that in order to accomplish activation by that date, Honduras be provided additional equipment, such as tentage, building hardware, transportation equipment, etc., which was not originally planned for the Honduran program; and (c) that four C–47 aircraft be included in the program and delivered at an early date. A copy of your despatch No. 551,5 reiterating your earlier recommendation that Honduras be supplied with four C–47 aircraft and requesting that Honduras be provided 28 additional planes, has also been forwarded to the Pentagon. Yesterday we were told that we could expect to receive a Pentagon reply within the next few days. However, from the information provided us orally, I am sure that the Pentagon response will be negative. Some of the problems which make a favorable response to your recommendations difficult are enumerated below.

  • First, most of the items requested in your despatch No. 515, such as tentage, building hardware, etc., fall in the category of material defined as “defense support”. The criteria used by the Joint Chiefs of Staff for determining types of military assistance which should be provided to foreign governments does not permit the provision of “defense support” items except in very exceptional circumstances. The theory is that such items, although they have a military application, are procurable from commerical sources. There are cases, such as Indo-China, Formosa, Greece and Turkey where we are providing defense support, but in each case separate funds for assistance must be obtained each year from the Congress.
  • Secondly, we have been advised informally by the Pentagon that the U.S. Air Force has no available C–47 or B–25 aircraft and that the only F4U–4’s in the possession of the Department of the Navy are those which are now being used by naval reserve units.

Even if all of the aircraft recommended in your despatch No. 551 could be made available—and our understanding is that they cannot—the total estimated cost of providing them to Honduras, according to the Pentagon, would be at the very minimum about $1½ million. Funds appropriated for the Latin American program to date are insufficient to absorb an increase of that amount. The grant assistance program for Latin America has been justified to the Congress as a program which can be carried out in its entirety with approximately $100 million, and slightly more than that amount already has been appropriated to date. We are using this relatively small amount of money to [Page 1310]provide assistance to ten Latin American countries, with some expectation that programs for El Salvador and Haiti may be commenced this year. The Congress is being requested to appropriate $13 million for FY 1955, but virtually all of these funds have been earmarked by the Pentagon for spare parts and training.

In addition to the practical difficulties enumerated above, there are important considerations of a policy nature which would make it difficult to comply with the Honduran request. All of the programs we are conducting in Latin America are based on the principle that mutual defense assistance funds shall be devoted exclusively to assisting the other governments to activate units which they have agreed to prepare for hemisphere defense missions specified in secret bilateral military plans with the U.S. The Joint Chiefs of Staff in each case determined the type of foreign military units which would be useful to U.S. military forces engaged in the defense of the Caribbean area in time of war and defined the hemisphere defense mission which each unit should perform. For example, the secret military plan concluded with Honduras specifies that the Honduran infantry battalion will be activated for the purpose of assisting the U.S. to “protect the Panama Canal and the sea and air communications in the Caribbean Sea excluding the territorial rights of other countries”. I realize that it is somewhat theoretical to expect a country such as Honduras, which has military forces barely sufficient to maintain internal order during an emergency, to provide material assistance to U.S. military forces engaged in defense of the hemisphere during an emergency. In fact, the Pentagon for a number of months strongly resisted our efforts to induce it to develop a hemisphere defense mission for Honduras, largely on the ground that Honduras, with limited U.S. assistance, would not be able to perform a hemisphere defense role. However, the Pentagon, after much urging on our part that a program would be desirable for political and psychological reasons, taking into account our objectives in Guatemala, finally did develop a hemisphere defense mission for Honduras and thus make that country eligible for grant assistance. To alter the basic concept underlying the Honduran program would require a decision at the very highest level of the government through some instrumentality such as the National Security Council. Moreover, it would be difficult to justify a change in the concept underlying the Honduran program without at the same time justifying a change in the concept underlying other Latin American programs, particularly in those cases where the armed forces of the other country are not as well oriented or equipped as they might be to meet the threat of subversion from within.

I believe it is clear from the foregoing that in order to comply with the Honduran request it would be necessary to urge the Pentagon to accord Honduras extremely exceptional treatment all along the line, [Page 1311]treatment which would require justification in the strongest terms to the Department of Defense, the NSC and the Congress. I am inclined to believe that such an effort, even if it had a chance of success, would not be warranted, particularly in view of the fact that the threat of aggression against Honduras has been very substantially reduced by the coming into power of an anti-communist regime in Guatemala.

I can appreciate what I take to be your basic position, namely, that by devoting additional funds to the Honduran program, compared with the vast amounts we are spending on military assistance world-wide, we might come very close to assuring ourselves that subversion, wherever it might appear, in Honduras, would be repressed effectively with armed force. However, our widely spread security commitments throughout the world have necessarily limited the nature and size of the Latin American program. In this connection, for example, the 32 aircraft requested for Honduras would represent almost one quarter of the total number of aircraft being provided to Latin American countries in the entire regional program. Moreover, we are providing no country in the program with as many as 34 aircraft. Brazil, for example, is receiving only 30.

Perhaps we can discuss this and other problems of mutual concern more fully during your visit here later this month.


Henry F. Holland
  1. Drafted by Mr. Spencer.
  2. Not found in Department of State files.
  3. The referenced despatch, dated June 8, 1954, is not printed (715.5 MSP/6–854).
  4. The referenced despatch, dated June 11, 1954, is not printed (715.5 MSP/6–1154).
  5. Despatch 551, dated June 28, 1954, is not printed (715.5 MSP/6–2854).