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

SUBJECT

  • Honduras: Plan for Phased Return to Constitutionality Suffers Setback

Summary:

The Honduran military are unwilling to accept the “phased” return to constitutionality plan worked out by Junta member Roberto Galvez and his advisors. Galvez et al. sounded out the military on this hoping for their backing to oust General Rodriguez from the Junta since his opposition to the plan was already apparent. Having failed in this, Galvez’ position has taken an abrupt turn for the worse. Galvez suspects that Rodriguez and other military men are plotting to assume military dominance by agitating for free elections and then seizing upon some disorder in the electoral process as an excuse to take power. If this reported military opposition to constitutional government becomes clearly defined, the Galvez faction conceivably might seek support from Villeda Morales and the Liberals to help save the country from a military dictatorship. Our Embassy reports that the Galvez faction is seriously considering calling Villeda Morales back from Washington for this purpose.

Background:

Honduras’ Constitution broke down in December 1954 when the Congress failed to meet and choose a President from the two leading vote-getters in the inconclusive October elections (Villeda Morales and General Carias 2). The ensuing de facto regime under Lozano was unable to solve the problem of returning to constitutionality and after holding patently fraudulent elections in October 1956, was overthrown by a three man military Junta. The Junta was accepted by all political factions on the premise that it was a caretaker government pledged to an early return to constitutionality. Since December the Junta has been increasingly concerned with the constitution question which in turn brings up the underlying political problem which forced the constitutional break-down.

Honduras’ basic political problem during the past three years has been the desire of the Nationalists and Reformists to retain the [Page 177] power they have held since 1932 in spite of the apparent numerical superiority of the Liberals. The problem is complicated by the family quarrel between the Nationalist Party and its insubordinate offshoot, the Reformists. The Reformists split off from the Nationalists prior to October 1954 elections when the former wanted to “run” then-President Juan Manuel Galvez against Nationalist Party Chief Carias. After the constitutional break-down the Reformists backed Lozano. Political logic points to the desirability of the Reformists and Nationalists burying their differences to unite against their common enemy, the Liberals, but efforts to heal the breach have failed so far. A new element entered the political picture in late 1956 when the military abruptly emerged as the key factor in overthrowing Lozano. If the military stay in politics, as it now appears they may, their support may be the decisive factor in any political struggle causing all parties to vie for their approval.

Present Situation:

Both Liberal and Reformist Party spokesmen during the past month have been calling for early elections of a constituent assembly to adopt a constitution and put the country back on the rails of de jure government. The Reformists are apparently building up Junta member Rodriguez as their political champion, hoping to capitalize on his bellicosely patriotic statements and field leadership in the recent expedition to “colonize” areas in dispute with Nicaragua. This expedition had been planned back in February with quite a different political end in view: the Junta had hoped to build up sufficient patriotic feeling to enable it to launch a plan for a carefully “phased” return to constitutionality which would have precluded the type of election desired by the Liberals and apparently by Rodriguez and the Reformists.

By early April Roberto Galvez and his advisors became convinced that General Rodriguez’s probable opposition to their plan for return to constitutionality would necessitate removing him from the Junta. However, after sounding out the rest of the military on their plan they found that the military would not support it and that the “current consensus of opinion is in favor of a simple constitutional assembly election.” In these circumstances it would be risky to attempt to “ditch” Rodriguez. At the same time, the Galvez faction suspects that a plot is being prepared to ensure continued military dominance of the government. The plotters allegedly include General Rodriguez and the Ministers of Defense3 and Government, with former Foreign Minister Mendoza supplying the brains. The Reformists supposedly would back such a plot.

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Embassy concludes that Roberto Galvez has “lost greatly” in influence with the military and that General Rodriguez and the Minister of Defense are in the ascendency. The Galvez faction appears undecided as to its future course.

Conclusions:

1.
Pressure from all sides for a definition of how and when to return to constitutionality is becoming so strong that the issue may be squarely and publicly faced in the very near future.
2.
If basic disagreements over this issue persist, a split in the Junta seems imminent, and a political polarization of Honduras over the issue could logically develop.
3.
The attitude of the military seems to be of paramount importance at this juncture. If suspicions of the military’s intentions of retaining power prove well-founded, the traditional Nationalist versus Liberal alignment in Honduran politics may tend to break down and it is conceivable that the civilian-government proponents of all parties might join forces to oppose military dominance. That the Galvez faction is thinking in this direction is apparent from the Embassy’s report that Galvez et al. are seriously considering calling Villeda back from Washington to help whip up popular support for freely-elected civilian government. This would be an almost complete about-face from Galvez’ position in December and January when he and his advisors wanted to get Villeda out of the country in order to maintain political tranquility.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 715.03/4–2257. Confidential.
  2. Tiburcio Carías Andino, President of Honduras, 1933–1948.
  3. Oswaldo López, Minister of Defense.