165. Telegram 268 from Tegucigalpa, October 301
Following message in three parts, based on general observation of developments since October 3 GOLPE, contacts with military and civilian officials present regime and with prominent political party leaders, presents Embassy’s analysis of (1) position of military regime and outlook for return to constitutionality; (2) policy considerations confronting US in defining its course of action vis-à-vis regime; and (3) recommendations of Embassy regarding course of action.
I. Position of Present Regime. Military government resulting from October 3 GOLPE appears to be firmly established and in effective control of country. While opposition liberal leaders tend to stress restiveness of rank and file followers, no substantial overt resistance movement has yet developed, although small clandestine liberal group now operating in capital. While there are some reports communist attempts to rally opposition sentiment this activity does not appear effective at present time.
While intent military regime to return government to [Facsimile Page 2] constitutionality at some future date appears clear, no great hurry to move in this direction. Although force US reaction in terms terminating aid and dismantling aid mission came as something of shock, military continue [Typeset Page 387] to feel US will come to some early accommodation re recognition which Lopez obviously anxious to secure. Impending recognition regime by UK and Germany, possibly followed by that of other Western European countries and some, if not most of LA countries may mitigate political needs recognition. However, pressure civilian ministers concerned with economic problems for government policies designed facilitate early return US economic aid, added to general desire military leaders to possess hallmark of respectability conferred by US recognition, will continue impel military leaders to consider accommodation with US on basis return to some type constitutionality.
Apparent, however, no possibility exists for adoption of solution to constitutional problem based on immediate application principles of 1957 Constitution. While liberals might eventually make appeal to Lopez on this basis, have little hope or chance of success.
The only uniform sentiment now current in Honduras (and this remains somewhat weak and certainly disorganized) is for a clear definition of the military regime’s intention to return to constitutional government via free elections, etc. But there is no basic concensus on timetable. General position political parties appears as follows:
1. Liberal Party, which in principle opposed to GOLPE although some elements do not regret elimination of Rodas Alvarado, agreed on rapid return to constitutional government but some division exists as to tactics best suited to induce favorable attitude military regime. Some elements support clear public statement liberal policy opposing regime while others hope to avoid open stance which would prejudice opportunities influence Lopez behind scenes.[Facsimile Page 3]
2. Nationalists who generally favor GOLPE divided on timing of return to constitutionality. Controlling group in Nationalist Party favor prolonged military regime probably with view to building up party strength, preserving jobs and other gains acquired through GOLPE. Galvistas remain on fringe of regime and distrustful of Lopez long-range intentions. Crucial, in final definition attitude of Nationalists, may be Gabriel Mejia who because of economic interests may be persuaded to adopt position favorable constitutionality in agreement with other political groups.
At present time there is some evidence of readiness on part certain Nationalist and Liberal Party leaders to collaborate in finding a solution to problem of return to constitutionality and maintenance of political stability in Honduras. These discussions generally involve so-called Colombian Plan and its variations, most recently enumerated in the Ramirez proposals (Embtel 266). No general agreement has yet emerged or even appear near, although there is considerable sentiment for a political solution embodying principle that minority party must share government positions either through Civil Service System or some constitutional formula for dividing bureaucratic spoils.[Typeset Page 388]
Military regime has not as yet expressed view on formula to return to constitutionality except for general statements re need to revise census and call for constituent assembly. From present indications military appear to be contemplating maintenance of power for one or two years, although concern over US recognition probably injects some degree flexibility in time-table for return to constitutionality. Objectives military regime in transition period still unclear. Strong possibility Lopez aspiring to election as President but this may not be unshakable ambition.
Attitudes toward US policy usually reflect attitudes toward coup itself. Some anger and some perplexity exists in military and nationalist circles. A few who favored coup [Facsimile Page 4] understand what US is trying achieve and appear respect position while in disagreement. Liberals very pleased by US stance and perhaps somewhat surprised at US firmness. Public expressions of anti-Americanism have occurred but unless Nationalist and military leaders choose encourage anti-American campaign, unlikely that spontaneous mass anti-American feeling will develop.[Facsimile Page 5]
II. US Policy Considerations. In formulating US approach to present Honduran situation, Embassy believes following points should be considered:
1. US actions should be consistent with cause, content and objectives of initial drastic reaction to October 3 GOLPE in cutting off economic and military aid and practically dismantling US aid mission with its attendant dislocations. Recognition of present Honduran regime without tangible and clear evidence of progress toward return to constitutionality at reasonably early date would obviously negate US objective of deterring future coups against constitutional and democratic governments in Honduras and other Latin American countries and would make drastic measures already taken appear bit ridiculous. In view particular circumstances Honduran coup—against a democratic regime which was within few months of fulfilling its constitutional term—serious consideration might be given to delaying recognition in any event until December 21 when Villeda Morales scheduled to leave office.[Facsimile Page 6]
2. Action, however, must also be based on realities of situation, that is, existence of regime which is in firm control of country and which is unlikely to accept any return to constitutional government along lines laid down in 1957 Constitution. Hence restoration of constitutional government obviously must be result of fresh approach in which US should attempt to encourage participation all parties with view to finding solution not only to present situation but also to long-term problem of political stability in Honduras.
3. Existence of military regime should not at this stage be regarded as total disaster. If there is any follow-up to suggestions put forward [Typeset Page 389] by Minister of Public Works Bogran, possibility exists some benefits may be derived in terms tax reform, establishment of Civil Service, etc which have been difficult to achieve under democratic regime. Within limits posed by circumstances, US should give encouragement to any plans along this line, especially Civil Service which may contribute solution basic political tensions which have long disrupted national life.
4. While suspension economic aid necessary to achievement US policy objectives in present situation, assume US does not wish to see serious deterioration economic situation or cancellation of economic growth achieved thus far. Believe therefore, it to interest of US to commence restoration some economic aid concomitantly with extension recognition following acceptable steps by military regime toward restoration constitutional government.
Recommendations for course of action which follow made against background these considerations.[Facsimile Page 7]
1. In view euphoria likely to be induced present military regime by impending recognition UK, Germany, etc and probable consequent expectation US recognition will not be long delayed, pressure should be maintained on regime by immediate implementation plans for reduction Embassy, military and air mission staffs.
2. Concomitantly further informal contacts with Lopez, Bogran and other influential members of government should be made to determine clearly objectives of government not only in relation to return to constitutionality but also in regard to “legislative” program such as tax revision, establishment of Civil Service which conceivably might have some bearing on speed with which regime willing to reestablish constitutional system.
3. Lopez should be induced to establish time-table for return to constitutionality via free elections, preferably within period of six months but with some flexibility up to perhaps an additional three months depending on value US attaches to any “legislative” program that might be undertaken by regime. In event latter justifies more extended period prior to elections, US should press for establishment transitional coalition government to include representative members all parties.
4. Embassy should continue to encourage leading Nationalists, liberals and others to collaborate on proposals for reestablishment constitutional government with view to presenting Lopez agreed solution.
5. US recognition should result from establishment of acceptable time table for elections including definitive date for this and other steps process return to constitution. Resumption of economic aid would be gradual and linked to achievement of definite stages of time table.
- Analysis of position of military regime; policy considerations confront U.S.; Embassy course of action recommendations. Confidential. 7 pp. DOS, CF, POL 15 HOND.↩