88. Memorandum of a Conversation Between the Chargé in Honduras (Pool) and the Honduran Ambassador (Villeda Morales), Tegucigalpa, October 3, 1957, 10 a.m.1
At my request I called on Dr. Villeda today at his house at 10 a.m. Dr. Villeda received me very cordially, said he was very busy [Page 190] these days with all kinds of requests from all kinds of people (he said he sent them all to the Liberal Party National Committee), but that he would always have time to talk with representatives of the Embassy.
Meeting of the Assembly
I told him that I had enjoyed very much listening to his radio speech Monday afternoon, and wondered whether he would be good enough to give me a general outline of his plans in the Constituent Assembly. He said the organizing meeting of the Assembly would take place about October 17 under the chairmanship of Flores Gomez,2 as established by the electoral law. Villeda would probably be elected President of the Assembly. On October 21 the Assembly would meet and issue Decree No. 1 declaring itself in session. The Junta would present its resignation to the Assembly, and he would immediately appoint a committee to consider it. The Assembly would not accept the resignation, and would ask the present two Junta members to continue for the time being as the executive authority. He stated that he had thought of adding one civilian to the Junta, but he did not think the Militares would like it very much, and he had accordingly decided to leave things exactly as they are for the present. He implied that the present Cabinet would continue on as well.
Dr. Villeda said that there were already in existence several draft constitutions, that it only remained for them to be put together—taking some from one and some from another—and that the process could be completed in from four to six weeks. In his view the Constitution should be a rather short document, many things which are in the drafts now should be supplementary laws rather than in the basic charter. He expressed the view that the Constitution itself should contain the basic features of election laws for any election at any time. In reply to my query he said the proportional representation feature should be retained. Otherwise, as in the case of September 22, one party would have a complete monopoly of the seats, and this would be a bad thing for the country. I expressed agreement with this view.
Naming of President
Dr. Villeda said that after the Constitution was adopted the Constituent Assembly would name him President for a full term. He [Page 191] said that in theory he still believed, as did the Liberal Party, that the President of the country should be elected directly by the people; but that in the present instance there were various factors which made such impractical for the particular case upcoming. In the first place, elections were expensive. Also, he said that the Cariístas had decided that Gonzalo was no use as a presidential candidate, they do not have time to build up another man in the public eye, they did not have any money, and they would probably end up by not going to the polls at all—as they did on October 7, 1956. The Cariístas now realize that they are hopelessly outnumbered in votes, and their only chance was to resort to violence. He is convinced that if they had another election the Cariístas would return to their old strong-arm methods. The Reformistas would not go to the polls again—their basic weakness now being apparent to all. Furthermore, everyone knew in advance the result of such an election—namely that he, Villeda, would be chosen. So he was something like the bride—no matter how much she loved the man she would prefer to go to the altar and do the thing right. But not this time. He said that the military were in agreement with the view that the Assembly should name him full-term president.
Accordingly, the Assembly would name him President by decree. He added that the decree might say in one of the “whereas” clauses in the Preamble that Villeda had been elected President in 1954, since he now had conclusive evidence that the elections of that year had been fraudulent.
Villeda did not say that he would be declared President as from 1954, as per the current rumours in the street. I gather that he simply wanted to have the statement made for the record.
I think there is probably something in what he says about the Cariístas in the next election. Gonzalo made a very poor showing, and he is not accepted by a great many people in the Nationalist Party itself. Apart from their half-hearted efforts to build up Gonzalo, the Nationalists do not have any indicated candidate. It is quite clear that they have no money—contributions are only made to one who has a good chance of winning. It is quite possible that another election would be characterized by violence—whether it is run by the military or not. I also think it most likely that the Reformistas will not go to the polls again since they have nothing in a practical way to offer to the electorate.
Villeda’s Prospective Tour as President-Designate
Villeda said that he did not want to take over right away. Once he was designated President he wanted to make a tour of the United [Page 192] States and Central American countries. He said he wanted to do this before he had taken office, because afterwards there would be too much protocol about such a tour. While in the United States he would seek financial assistance from the USG in the form of outright gifts “like you have given to Guatemala and other countries”—none of this business about loans, Smathers Funds, etc. He also mentioned the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Pan American Union, and the Inter-American Defense Board as sources of aid. He said for instance that the Inter-American Defense Board should build a highway across the country from Puerto Cortés to San Lorenzo as a strategic measure complementing the Panama Canal. He did not particularly indicate what assistance he expected from the PAU but I gathered he meant technicians. He said his people needed to be educated, health conditions must be greatly improved, “we will build roads all over the country” etc. He said that the relationship with the U.S. must be complete (I am not entirely sure what he meant . …
He went on to say that the country already has a 14 million Lempira budget deficit, and implied it would be more by the time he took over. He said there were various ways of saving money—for instance, Honduran representation abroad. There was no need to have an Embassy in London or Paris or Rome—those countries are not important to Honduras—the Ambassador to Spain could also be representative at the Vatican etc. (the facts of life in the way of political patronage do not seem to be appreciated by him yet—he will need these jobs for his spoils-hungry party followers). He went on to add that the consular service should be reorganized. He said that whenever anybody was sick and wanted to go to a U.S. city for treatment the practice had been simply to name him Consul there.
People in His Government
Villeda said he thought he would make Roberto Lazarus Ambassador to Washington—“Doctors make good diplomats, you know”. We both laughed. He went on to observe “you know in the Nicaraguan crisis there were two factors—the military and diplomacy. The military did not do very well, but diplomacy up there did”. I merely observed that Lazarus was a very pleasant person, had an attractive wife, and both spoke excellent English. He said his government would be composed of all parties, and mentioned Gabriel Mejia as one he would like to keep. He said “I have told Gabriel I would like to have him with me, that it might be difficult for me to sell him to my Party, but that I still wanted him”. He said some government reorganization was needed—the Ministry of Finance and Economy should be made into two ministries, Finance and Economy. Natural Resources should be only Agriculture, since that is all it did [Page 193] anyway. He also expressed the intention of enlarging the presidential office, and said that such things as tourism should be directly under it. As coffee was served he mentioned that he planned to install a coffee bar in the Presidential Palace. He told me, and he asked me that it be kept strictly confidential, that he was planning to ask Jack Agurcia to be his presidential secretary.
Villeda talked very big indeed. At no stage of the conversation did he give any indication of concern that anybody else, either inside or outside of the country, might have different ideas. He acted as if he alone were the determining factor and that no one else had anything to say about it. He said he saw nothing to prevent his plans from materializing unless he were assassinated, which he regards as a distinct possibility (the entrance to his house is always guarded by two goons). He showed no indication whatever of any awareness of the thinking of the militares as previously reported. He apparently thinks he can write his own ticket both as far as his own Party is concerned and with the military. It does not seem to have occurred to him that his proposed tour of the U.S. as President-Designate might not be entirely welcome to us, or that we may not produce aid in the form and quantity he expects. … It would appear that the good Doctor’s education is not yet complete.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 715.00/10–457. Confidential. Drafted by John C. Pool. Transmitted under cover of despatch 130 from Tegucigalpa, October 4. (Ibid.) The substance of the conversation was also transmitted to the Department in telegram 134 from Tegucigalpa, October 3. (Ibid., 715.00/10–357)↩
- Raúl Flores Gomez, Minister of Interior and Justice.↩