78. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Middle American Affairs (Neal) to the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom)1


  • Comments on Honduran-Nicaraguan Border Dispute

On the basis of information now available and a further study of the background, MID feels that there are three probable major motives behind the Honduran move.

It is believed that this ill-timed move was largely for domestic political purposes. It can not yet be proved, but it is believed that the junta’s return to constitutionality which has been announced for the near future, calls for a plan to hamper the aspirations of the so-called Villeda Morales or “leftwing” Liberals, which may still have a majority following. If this thesis is correct, the current bold move toward the Cruta is designed to build up the junta, give prestige to its future actions, and draw popular attention away from the constitutional plan designed to eliminate the early possibility of electing Villeda as president. The Liberals have traditionally been the party which has made the most noise on the subject of irridentism. Likewise, if this thesis is accepted, it must be assumed that the junta was unaware of the probable extent of the Nicaraguan and international reaction; this was indicated in some of the early telegrams, as well as more recent conversations.

Cruta Irridenta

Hondurans feel very strongly on the subject of the Cruta which is its “Trieste”. Progress toward settlement of the problem would be a boost for any government. It is thought, however, that actual settlement of the problem was secondary to the domestic smokescreen in this instance.


Military Build-up

This may be an effort on the part of the military group in Honduras to build up its prestige. The military have not been as important in Honduras as in some other countries. It is doubtful, however, if this is the determining factor.

The junta stands a chance of losing prestige if it now fails to achieve spectacular results in the Mosquitia after the publicity buildup. This could possibly, although not probably, cause the fall of the [Page 175] present government. It is difficult to see how the junta can extract much glory for having (perhaps inadvertently) stirred up a hornets nest, spent extra much-needed funds, and not accomplished much of a concrete nature. Unless we handle the situation with care we could well add to the domestic discomfiture of the junta.


Honduras made a tactical error with the “spectacular” air lift and the publicity as well as the mystery surrounding Honduran intentions. If this move to the Mosquitia had been accomplished quietly there would probably have not been any complaint since Nicaragua has been doing this for years along the Coco and the Cruta (e.g. Waspam). The Hondurans have actually done nothing which has in any way damaged the Nicaraguan claim or which affects territory traditionally occupied by Nicaragua.

Nicaragua has achieved considerable advantage, both domestically and internationally, out of being the “aggrieved” party on the basis of suspicion of the intentions of Honduras. It has also used the “crisis” to advantage domestically. Nicaragua is attempting to make the most of this psychological advantage through its superior international organization.

With respect to Nicaragua and Central America the following points should be kept in mind:

Nicaragua has in no way been physically aggrieved, and possibly there was no intention of injuring Nicaraguan interests.
Responsibility for failure to settle the boundary dispute over the years belongs at least half to Nicaragua. Honduras probably has a better historical claim.
It remains to be seen whether Nicaragua will, any more than Honduras, make any concessions on the terms of reference or on territory, which will be absolutely necessary on both parts to obtain a final settlement. Each country considers a court settlement only as a means of obtaining enforcement of its own views on the subject.

For these reasons, even though the immediate crisis is probably past, barring some unfortunate incident, it is believed that we should continue to point out the desirability of arriving at a definitive settlement of the problem.

We can not, however, insist upon this or make it a conditioning factor in our relations with either country. We have no vital strategic interest at stake in the dispute. Since this is the case, there is no reason for the U.S. to share the onus of the final determination which is bound to be unpopular with at least one side and which could cost us prestige with one or both sides.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 615.1731/3–1157. Confidential. Drafted by Warner and Wollam. A handwritten notation on the source text reads: “Thanks. An excellent paper. Agree with recommendations assuming Honduras does not further aggravate situation. R.R.R.”