108. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Current Political Conditions in Honduras

PARTICIPANTS

  • Roberto Ramirez, President, Central Bank of Honduras
  • Manuel Acosta Bonilla, Honduran Minister of the Economy
  • Covey T. Oliver, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs

During the course of the Plenary Session of the IDB Governors on April 24, Minister Acosta requested an opportunity for Ramirez and him to talk with Mr. Oliver, topic unspecified. When the conversation was held, Acosta opened on the above subject and did most of the talking. No other subjects arose.

Minister Acosta said that the recent municipal elections in Honduras had not been conducted with complete honesty on the part of the Nationalist Party and that, although the Honduran military had been kept scrupulously out of the elections by the President, the resulting bitterness had badly divided the country. He mentioned specifically the estrangement of the labor unions.

Minister Acosta expressed the concern that if Vice President Zuniga prevails in his drive for greater power within the government of Honduras, the result will be a dictatorship. The Minister explained that Ambassador Jova had made clear the bad reaction in Washington to the latest elections but that the President is blind to Zuniga’s faults and does not comprehend the seriousness of the problem. At the same time, the Minister confided that there are strong elements within the GOH which desire the ouster of Zuniga.

Mr. Oliver asked about the possible motivations of Zuniga and Minister Acosta replied that Zuniga simply wants to control the government. At the present time he stands in the way and is a bottleneck to all important [Page 253]programs. In the case of fulfilling the requirements of the IMF Standby for curtailing excessive government costs, Zuniga continues to run his Ministry in defiance of the demands of the Minister of Economy.

Mr. Oliver asked if there were solutions to the problem, such as holding new elections. The Minister doubted the possibility of doing this, saying that the only answer was to confront the President with the problem and cure his myopia towards Zuniga. Mr. Oliver then asked if there was any outside help which could be used to persuade the President, suggesting both the outgoing and incoming OAS Secretaries General. Acosta discounted these but thought President Somoza might be helpful. However, he believed that Ambassador Sevilla Sacasa was probably the best man, as he is both a close friend of President Lopez and a highly respected figure as well. The possibility of contact at the Central American Meeting of Presidents was also discussed, the advantage there being that Somoza might offer counsel without causing public notice of their contact.

Mr. Oliver asked if it might settle tensions if the President brought more Liberals into his government. Acosta thought that most Liberals would refuse to associate with the present government, and he doubted that there could be any such workable coalition. On this note, he also remarked that while many of the “exaltados Liberales” were leaving the country or merely throwing up their hands in frustration, the Communists are planning to take advantage of the worsening situation.

The Minister commented that President Lopez may believe that Ambassador Jova is acting on his own and siding with the Liberals. Also, there is a belief that Washington may not see the situation as the Ambassador does. Mr. Oliver praised the Ambassador’s reporting and assured the Minister that Washington is as concerned about the situation as the Ambassador is. Mr. Oliver then asked what serious consequences would arise from the removal of as powerful a figure as Zuniga, referring as he did to Colombian President Valencia’s removal of General Ruiz Novoa in 1964. Both Acosta and Ramirez agreed that Zuniga is really without power, that his only source of strength is that the people at many levels view him as the shadow of the President. That notwithstanding, Zuniga has no support from either political party (except from “la basura”), the military, or labor. Mr. Oliver remarked that Zuniga is then “not a power but a symbol of power.” Acosta agreed and noted that Ambassador Jova understands this well.

Going back to an earlier general reference of Acosta’s, Mr. Oliver called up the possibility of a visit to Washington by President Lopez, noting that we would have difficulties with this in the United States. Acosta nodded his understanding and said that the President would be delighted to come, that he has already made official visits to Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Mexico, and that he went to Punta del Este.

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Mr. Oliver closed stating that he would consider calling Ambassador Jova to Washington for consultations, briefing Ambassador Sevilla Sacasa on the issue and the role he might play. There was brief discussion of the possibility of Presidents Lleras and Trejos being useful, but it was agreed they would not be so at this time.2

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 HOND. Confidential. Drafted by Starzel on April 29. The meeting was held at the Hotel Tequendama. Oliver forwarded the memorandum with a letter to Jova on April 30, in which he suggested: “In view of my discussion with Acosta Bonilla you may have different ideas now about an approach to oust Zuniga. If so, we would like to hear them.” (Ibid., ARA Files: Lot 74 D 467, Honduras 1968) Jova replied by reiterating his position on Zúñiga’s removal, with an important qualification: “López must be brought to desire it himself.” (Letter from Jova to Oliver, May 7, transmitted in telegram 2254 from Tegucigalpa, May 9; ibid., Central Files 1967–69, POL 12 HOND)
  2. Jova returned to Washington for consultation in early June, and participated in an IRG/ARA meeting on June 5, to consider the Zúñiga problem. (Telegram 173654 to Tegucigalpa, May 30; ibid., POL 1 HOND–US) An action memorandum records the decision as follows: “To the extent feasible the USG should work to achieve its objectives in Honduras through power centers other than Minister of the Presidency Ricardo Zuniga. We should avoid giving the impression that the USG favors Zuniga or is building up his image. We should not become involved in pressing for Zuniga’s ouster, but if internal pressures for his removal build up in Honduras, the USG may be able to use its influence discreetly to help nudge him out.” (IRG/ARA Action Memo No. 49, June 7; ibid., IRG/ARA Files: Lot 70 D 122, IRG/ARA Action Memos, 1968)