148. Memorandum of conversation, October 4, between Foreign Minister Alvardo and Edwin M. Martin1
- Honduran Agrarian Reform; Request for Assistance
- Honduran Foreign Minister Andrés ALVARADO Puerto
- Honduran Ambassador to the U.S. and the OAS Celeo DÁVILA
- Assistant Secretary Edwin M. Martin—ARA
- OAP—Mr. John W. Fisher
- OAP/H—Mr. Edward M. Rowell
Minister Alvarado said that Honduras is democratic and has had problems with its neighbors, but it meets its international obligations, and restrains exile plotters within its borders.
Honduras embraces the Alliance for Progress completely, and fully recognizes the primary role of private investment, foreign and domestic. The Agrarian Reform program will be administered with this in mind. The GOH has no intention of doing anything which would damage fruit company interests.
The Agrarian Reform law was enacted hastily and therefore requires some modification. Enactment was democratic, and even the President of the Congress, Rodas, who was against it, was unable to prevent passage.
Honduras strongly opposes international communism and Castroism, and supports U.S. initiatives in this field. Internally communism is best fought by making reforms and repressing reactionary elements, thus preempting the communists’ normal fields of operations.
The adverse U.S. press and congressional reaction to the Honduran Agrarian Reform law came as a great surprise, and was unwarranted in view of the true GOH intent. The Minister was pleased that Secretary Rusk said the U.S. still supports just and good reforms.[Facsimile Page 2]
Mr. Martin said that President Villeda’s promise not to sign expropriation decrees until the Agrarian Reform law is amended, made public through the New York Times, greatly helped the situation. We [Typeset Page 360] await with interest the action at the November session of the Honduran Congress.
Minister Alvarado and Ambassador Dávila said the law would be amended and asked the U.S. Government to furnish expert assistance in making appropriate changes in the law.
Mr. Martin said that the U.S. can supply purely technical advice on problems of Agrarian Reform, but Hondurans themselves will of course have to prepare changes in the law if it is to satisfy Honduras’ own unique needs.
Minister Alvarado said that Honduras has a truly representative and democratic government which operates on a basis of consensus, and not by executive fiat. In contrast, some neighboring governments are much less democratic. They attempt to intervene in Honduran affairs occasionally to promote the establishment of a Honduran Government to their own liking. In the early days of Honduras’ present administration, some local extremists intrigued against the country’s neighbors, but the GOH halted these adventures as soon as they were discovered.
Minister Alvarado then said: Honduras is doing its best to accomplish the social and economic progress promised in the Alliance for Progress and espoused by the United States (Mr. Martin interjected the comment that these goals are enumerated in the Charter of Punta del Este, and Minister Alvarado agreed). The new Agrarian Reform law is part of the effort. The GOH intends to administer Agrarian Reform responsibly, and will not recklessly expropriate private property. Honduras fully recognizes the value and importance of such property, and the fundamental role of and need for private capital and foreign investment in its own development. Minister Alvarado emphasized very strongly that the Honduran Government never intended that the law be used to attack the American fruit companies or to drive them out of Honduras. On the contrary, Honduras wants the American companies to remain, and will work to keep the climates attractive to them.
The Minister recited the history of the enactment of the Agrarian Reform law, which he said in brief had aspects of hasty improvisation. The GOH some time ago established what it mistakenly thought was a technically qualified commission to study the problem and to draft a law. The commission was composed of OAS advisors, plus a Venezuelan advisor, plus a Mexican who was thought to be conservative but who turned out to be leftist. The draft finally was introduced in the Honduran Congress very late in the session, without review by any of the cabinet ministers, except the Minister of Natural Resources. Members of congress who should have demanded more thorough revision failed to familiarize themselves with it and acceded to it with[Typeset Page 361]out serious [Facsimile Page 3] objection. Under the circumstances, even the President of the Congress, Rodas Alvarado, who opposed the law, was unable to prevent its passage.
Minister Alvarado said he was shaken at the U.S. press reaction to the Honduran Agrarian Reform law. He had been completely unprepared for the severity of the attacks, and he was taken aback when Secretary Rusk discussed the matter with him on the evening of October 2. He felt reassured when the Secretary made plain the United States’ continued support for good and just rural reform.
Mr. Martin reemphasized U.S. espousal of sound rural reform properly executed. He said President Villeda’s statement to New York Times correspondent Paul P. Kennedy on October 4, 1962, seemed to resolve our immediate concern over Honduran Agrarian Reform. (In an article on page 9 of the October 4 issue of the New York Times, Kennedy reported that Villeda had said that “he would sign no expropriation decrees until the law had been amended”.) Mr. Martin added that we would expect appropriate action at the next regular session of the Honduran Congress in November 1962.
Minister Alvarado and Ambassador Dávila said the Agrarian Reform law can and will be amended to avoid damage to anyone. They asked the United States to furnish some expert assistance in formulating amendments to the law. This way, Honduras could be sure the proposed changes would satisfy U.S. legal requirements and would be technically sound. He hastily added that he was not proposing U.S. intervention in Honduras, but merely seeking technical advice.
Mr. Martin replied that every country has its own unique political-cultural-economic system. Therefore, an Agrarian Reform law, to be good and just, will have to be unique to the country enacting it. Hence, the law must be written by Hondurans. The United States will do what it can to provide purely technical advice at an operating level, but formulation and amendment of the law must be done by Hondurans.
Mr. Martin, Ambassador Dávila and Minister Alvarado agreed that this topic should be kept confidential.
The Foreign Minister then sketched Honduras’ relations with Cuba. His government severed diplomatic relations in April, 1961. President Villeda has repeatedly attacked the “cancer of Castroism”. Honduras firmly supports U.S. initiatives on Cuba, and is pleased with the results of the informal meeting of American Foreign Ministers, October 2–3. (Ambassador Dávila interjected the thought that the final communiqué should have been stronger. Mr. Martin replied that he was satisfied to have obtained as much as we did.) However, the present Honduran approach to internal communism is best for the long run; that is, communism will be defeated by reform and economic and social progress.
- Honduran agrarian reform; request for assistance. Confidential. 3 pp. DOS, CF, 715.04/10–462.↩