76. Memorandum From the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom) to the Secretary of State1


  • Revival of Honduran-Nicaraguan Boundary Dispute

During the past two months the Military junta of Honduras has stimulated renewed interest in reclaiming and colonizing the Mosquitia.2 Five hundred troops are now being moved into the area [Page 171] technically considered under litigation by Nicaragua and actually only a few miles from territory occupied by Nicaragua, which feels it necessary to take preliminary defensive measures. With the obdurate positions of the two governments either one could feel justification for “defensive” action. We do not as yet have any definite information of the exact Honduran intentions in the area.

The long-standing dispute was arbitrated by the King of Spain who issued a laudo in 1906 conceding the Honduran claim to all territory North of the Coco or Segovia River and roughly east of longitude 86. This was disavowed by Nicaragua in 1911. Since 1906 Honduras has remained firm on the position that there is no dispute and that there is merely a question of obtaining enforcement of the laudo. Nicaragua has, however, long occupied parts of this territory especially that between the Coco and Cruta Rivers. Nicaragua has maintained loose administrative control over the area covering the watershed of the Coco River.

We intend to request a statement of Honduran intentions which might tend to calm the situation temporarily pending a more definite legal settlement. This will be done by calling in the Honduran Ambassador3 here and by an approach to the Foreign Office. We have a direct interest in the matter because of Honduran hope for a Smathers Fund loan for another development project, and this could be used as a lever if necessary.

We will continue to urge bi-lateral negotiation or the use of pacific settlement procedures such as the ICJ. In doing so we will continue to exercise extreme caution to avoid any step which might be susceptible to interpretation that the U.S. is favoring one claim over the other.4

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 615.1731/3–457. Confidential.
  2. The department of La Mosquitia is located along the Caribbean coast in the southeast corner of Honduras.
  3. Ramón Villeda Morales presented his credentials as Honduran Ambassador to the United States on January 18.
  4. In telegram 202 to Tegucigalpa, March 6, the Department stated in part: “Events of last few days and lack any firm undertaking from Honduras to refrain from further provocation of Nicaragua and apparent failure restrain patrol activities in disputed area are rapidly eroding climate sympathy enjoyed by Honduras here so far. U.S. would encounter great difficulty in reconciling military activities with country’s reported budgetary crisis. If Embassy has not received firm assurances of Junta’s resolve to quiet situation such as through reassuring statements and orders to forces in field to desist from provocatory acts, Embassy instructed immediately bring foregoing attitude of US to attention Junta as practical aspect situation.” (Department of State, Central Files, 615.173/3–657) This telegram was repeated for information to Managua.