107. Airgram From the Embassy in Honduras to the Department of State 1

A–321. Subject: The President and the Zúniga Problem.

In my conversation with President López on April 19 I pushed him further on the Zúniga problem than any time previously. He attempted to make the point that his conscience was clear as he considered himself apolitical, had received the Liberal leaders openly and cordially in the pre-election period and had given strict orders for the Armed Forces to play a non-partisan role. I told him that while it was well known that he himself was apolitical, he could not separate his own role as President from that of Zúniga, his most intimate [Page 250] collaborator and “Prime Minister” who was at the same time the admittedly real leader of the Nationalist Party and the organizer of the electoral process. I stressed to the President the very real usefulness of his apolitical stance as one of the true unifying forces in the country. I urged that he not let this be eroded. The President replied that he has even considered resigning as his patience with the politicians has grown even thinner, but fears that this would solve nothing and might plunge the country into real chaos. I urged that he forget thoughts of resigning but instead play his full role as President.
I pointed out that the very fact that the President had received the Liberals may in itself have led to their persecution as Zúniga had himself told us that he considered this as a threat to himself. When the President later remarked that his door continued open to the Liberal leaders and that he was willing to receive them at any time, I queried him whether this might not cause trouble with Zúniga who, we understood, wished that contacts with the Liberals be carried out through him. The President reacted rather sharply to this, replying that Mr. Zúniga had nothing to do with this matter, this did not concern him, and that he as President was free to see the Liberals when and as he wished.
In another portion of the conversation the President referred to Zúniga as he has in the past as merely his assistant and collaborator and one who could be dispensed with at will. To that I replied that, while Zúniga had previously wielded power as in effect the President’s private secretary and closest collaborator, he now, as a result of the municipal elections, had unquestionably emerged as a political power in his own right and as a consequence we understood his attitude had changed and had become considerably more domineering. I told the President that I recognized how useful Zúniga had been to him, and the fact that as a private secretary their interests were in large part mutual. Zúniga’s interests as a political power now, however, might not coincide with the President’s own interests and I suggested that the President examine very carefully to what extent their interests coincided and to what extent they diverged in order that he might be guided accordingly. Certainly their interests had not coincided in regard to the municipal elections and in this instance it had not been the President’s interests which had been served…
The President not only took my various references to Zúniga in good grace but seemed to agree. In fact, I noted on his part an attitude which bordered on the hostile towards Zúniga and it may be that his recognition of the divergency of their interests is growing. We must not forget that others, including Mrs. López, are pressing him on this divergency. It may also have been significant that in reply to my query he suggested that I not mention to Zúniga the memorandum prepared [Page 251] by former President Villeda Morales which I had handed him.2 On this occasion he said that this should remain between the two of us, “If you tell Zúniga the whole town will know in no time.”
I think it is obvious that the differences between these two men are growing and the President may even have begun to fear him. (Could this be why he is starting a new military unit to serve under his personal command as a “Presidential Guard”?) I know that Mrs. López is in a very depressed state, is increasingly anti-Zúniga, and told the Archbishop that her husband has lost prestige and power to “that man” and that she has no hope left for the future. (This admittedly is an emotional woman’s view.) Certainly the confirmation of Zúniga as the “political master of the country” as a result of the election has increased the alarm and the jealousy of various other Nationalist leaders and perhaps of some of the military. Nevertheless, it is very possible that the President would find it difficult (perhaps more so than we know) to take action against Zúniga and will continue living with a situation to which he has become accustomed and which in many respects has been useful (and even profitable) to him. On the other hand, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] received indications [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] that it would not be impossible for the President to drop Zúniga were this to his interest (see enclosure A).3
In any case, my conversations with the President should make it clear to him that, contrary to what we sometimes believe Zúniga has led him to think, the American Embassy is not supporting Mr. Zúniga in his present office and would be prepared to work directly with the President toward a more conciliatory type of government at any time the President might wish.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15–1 HOND. Secret; Limdis. Drafted by Jova on April 23. Jova forwarded the airgram to Sayre under cover of an April 23 letter in which he wrote: “Frankly, I am increasingly convinced that while the survival of the Government is important to stability and development, our interests would be much better served if we could eliminate Zúniga from the picture.” Jova explained that, “in accordance with the Department’s desires I have tried to act as a channel between the Liberals and the President and to help bring about a reduction of tensions. This is very difficult under present circumstances, and you will note from the attached airgram as well as from our telegrams that we have been drawn into a considerably more active role than is traditional. While in Honduras it is almost impossible for the American Embassy to remain uninvolved, even here this has its dangers.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA Files: Lot 74 D 467, Honduras 1968)
  2. Not found.
  3. Attached but not printed.