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


  • Honduran-Nicaraguan Boundary Dispute

1. Latest Developments: Background material was furnished in ARA memorandum of March 4, 1957 to the Secretary. An estimated 350 Honduran troops plus some civilians were airlifted to the Mosquitia area on Sunday March 3. The Nicaraguan Government has told us it will not advance its forces beyond present border guard posts. The Honduran Government has ordered its troops not to engage in hostilities “unless attacked.” The three-man Honduran military junta flew to the disputed area for a 24 hour observation visit on March 6, and the Honduran Foreign Minister plans to issue a communiqué today March 7 avowing Honduras’ peaceful intentions at the same time reaffirming Honduran sovereignty in the area in question. Both Nicaragua and Honduras have indicated to us that they are willing to settle the boundary question by peaceful means. In the past the two countries have been unable to agree upon terms of reference since Honduras insists upon the finality of the 1906 award and Nicaragua is equally insistent that the 1906 award was faulty.

Public opinion has become aroused in both countries although there has been no break in relations or even recall of Ambassadors for consultation. President Luis Somoza feels he cannot take any position which would appear “weak”, and he fears that Nicaraguan exiles are involved. The military Junta in Honduras also feels for domestic political reasons it cannot yield any “Honduran territory.” The Nicaraguan Ambassador2 here has hinted that in case of hostilities Nicaragua can rely upon strong friends and the Honduran Foreign Minister3 has voiced suspicions that a Nicaraguan-Dominican-Venezuelan entente against Honduras–El Salvador–Costa Rica may be in the making. We have no other evidence of such an alignment of forces.

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We are urging that Honduras make a clear statement of its intentions which might help mollify Nicaragua (this expected momentarily), and to urge both governments to use measures to quiet public opinion.
Since there is still considerable difficult jungle terrain between the military forces, at most points, we shall use all possible diplomatic leverage to prevent additional advances by either side or aggressive actions which might lead to actual conflicts, i.e. thus creating an informal buffer zone.
We are endeavoring to persuade the governments that it would be profitable for the President of Nicaragua and one or more members of the three-man military junta governing Honduras to meet to (1) establish a buffer zone (2) prepare climate for definite arbitration by International Court of Justice or other agency.
After immediate crisis is past, we shall continue to urge a conclusive settlement of the border question, although this may take considerable time.

Alternate Courses of Action:

As a parallel, we are encouraging the Organization of Central American States (ODECA) through its Secretary General to use its good offices in the dispute in addition to regular diplomatic channels.
In the event that hostilities should break out, we will work through the various OAS mechanisms to bring about a truce and more definite settlement.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 615.1731/3–757. Confidential.
  2. Guillermo Sevilla-Sacasa.
  3. Esteban Mendoza.