104. Telegram From the Embassy in Honduras to the Department of State1

1943. For Assistant Secretary Oliver. Ref: Tegucigalpa 1917,2 1941,3 1942.4

I am deeply disturbed by manner in which municipal elections have been carried out particularly in view of relative optimism which [Page 244] we had come to feel regarding conciliatory atmosphere and the position of non-partisanship of president and of the armed forces.
The lopsided election results are an incitement to the liberals to look for unconstitutional solutions and at same time are an embarrassment to the Nationalist Party, to the GOH, to President Lopez and, frankly, to the United States. Zuniga and his close associates did their work not wisely but too well. Had he limited himself to bribery, use of government transportation and other facilities for Nationalist voters, this would have been not laudable perhaps but at least understandable and, in the local context, acceptable. The use of repressive gangster methods has, however, created a very bad effect. The Nationalists, moreover, would probably have made a very respectable showing without need resort to violence and bloodshed.
The question already being asked (and one which we must ask ourselves) is what is to be the reaction of the U.S. Government and specifically of this Embassy to elections which were so palpably un-Alianza and un-Punta del Este in procedures. As an illustration of how seriously this is viewed, Minister of Economy Acosta Bonilla came to see me at lunch time April 1 unannounced and without chauffeur. He foresaw grave harm to the laboriously built improved image of the GOH abroad with possible difficulties obtaining alliance loans as well as increasing trouble and potential disturbances domestically unless something is done at once to remedy situation. He said the only way this can be done is if President Lopez promptly declared the most controversial of the electoral districts null and called for re-elections in those places, accompanied by an announcement that he would dismiss Zuniga as person solely responsible for the elections. He urged that I see the President and press this course on him. (We must recognize, of course, that Acosta has his own axe to grind.) In meantime, he said, public opinion closely watching Embassy and he recommended we avoid taking any actions which might give impression we support Zuniga or more unpleasant aspects of Lopez government. (Sandoval subsequently told the DCM5 that he so disturbed with Zuniga’s manipulations that he considering offering his resignation to President and specifically asked whether there would be a change in U.S. economic assistance policy towards Honduras.)
Today I saw President and stressed to him our fear that handling of election had been real step backward for Honduras, for his government, and for his own prestige. I urged him to find some way to restore conciliatory climate which had been so encouraging. Lopez seemed tense and disturbed at events and said he feared that he had [Page 245] now lost confidence of Liberals and any possibility they might participate in government. He spoke of possibility of repeat elections in six or seven most controversial municipalities, was critical of Zuniga and even touched on possibility of Zuniga absenting himself from country for a couple of months. While I frankly doubt latter will happen, Lopez’ attitude at least seems constructive and he was regretfully aware of damage which had been done to Honduras’ image abroad.
At noon today Zuniga came to the residence at this [his?] request. I found him nervous and full of self-justification. In same snow job he is probably giving President he claimed poor Liberal showing was “a Liberal plot to embarrass government” and claimed Nationalist success largely due to hard work, good organization, and expenditure large sums of money for bribery as well as pork barrel. He expressed suitable distaste for intimidation and atrocities which he admitted had occurred in two departments and which he said would be investigated. I told him that regardless his rationalization, elections had done great harm to Honduras both here and abroad and would certainly make our task more difficult.
I recognize that memories can be short here and the adverse reactions may evaporate in a few weeks. I sincerely hope so. In the meantime I request the Department’s authorization to return to Washington for a few days’ consultation at my discretion if it appears that this is most appropriate way to make known our concern over situation.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 18–1 HOND. Confidential; Limdis.
  2. In telegram 1917 from Tegucigalpa, April 1, the Embassy reported that unofficial election returns indicated a “crushing defeat” for the Liberal Party. (Ibid.)
  3. In telegram 1941 from Tegucigalpa, April 2, the Embassy assessed general reaction to the municipal elections, concluding that the Honduran public had reached a consensus that the results were “so lopsided as to beg the question of free electoral process.” (Ibid.)
  4. In telegram 1942 from Tegucigalpa, April 2, the Embassy reported on Liberal reaction to the “fraudulent elections.” (Ibid.)
  5. Jean M. Wilkowski.