118. Letter From the Ambassador to Honduras (Jova) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Oliver)1

Dear Covey:

I deeply appreciated your good letter of October 72 and the patience you have shown in going into all the details. I can only start off by saying that it is ironic that the thrust of their complaints is against me personally. To be frank, one of my concerns during the strike crisis was that I might be considered by the Department as showing too much bias in favor of the Government in what did seem to me from the beginning to be an ill-conceived strike that had political motivations.

I do wish to thank the Secretary and you personally for the confidence you have expressed in me, both in your letter and in your conversations with Carías and Zúniga. Carías, of course, is not returning until around October 21. Zúniga is back, however, but I have not seen him. I have been told by others that he is in an extremely good mood. As a matter of tactics, it is important to know whether Zúniga himself asked for my removal or did he make that poor Foreign Minister take the lead? I agree with your analysis of the essential weakness of Midence, but can quite see him enjoying playing a role which includes “big time politics” and currying favor with Zúniga, on whom, of course, he is entirely dependent for his job.

I did not speak directly with the President during the strike as at that time I felt there was no need for this as he was extremely busy and I was in touch at least three times a day with Zúniga and an equal number of times with Acosta Bonilla. There was, as a review of the cables will show, no lack of communication with the Government on my part during that period. I have, however, subsequently seen the President on three separate occasions at public gatherings, the last time only yesterday. He has gone out of his way to seek me out, has been very cordial and readily assented when I expressed the hope of seeing him to discuss the strike and post-strike situation. I hope this interview comes off, but Zúniga may stop it.

This should provide the President a good opportunity to make any points he may desire concerning any doubts he personally may have [Page 279] regarding the Embassy/Consulate activities and should also provide me with a better feel for what his own opinions are towards us and towards me personally. I should be able to write you a more conclusive letter as to what might then be our best follow-up response to the GOH after I have had such an opportunity to speak with the President.3

As to the purpose behind Carías’ request and Zúniga’s intent, I fully agree with your own analysis. Certainly Zúniga’s own position with López and within the Government had been weakened somewhat by the events succeeding the March 31 election and even by his apparent victory in that election. The changes in the Cabinet and in other areas of the Government strengthened the so-called economic group which had been his “enemies” (you will recall your own April 25 conversation in Bogota with Acosta Bonilla)4 and eliminated various Zúniga henchmen, particularly within the Supreme Court. Zúniga and his wife were not appearing at social events at which the President was present and as recently as September 4 at a party at the home of the President of the Congress, President López held forth at length and with considerable vehemence on how badly served he was by his immediate staff, how poor the coordination was within the Government and how his own commitments to Liberals and others were undermined by his immediate collaborators for their own political ends. While he did not mention Zúniga by name, all present afterwards commented that he was the obvious target.

The strike, however, served at least for the time being to change this atmosphere. It has apparently strengthened Zúniga and has drawn together all of the Government, including Acosta Bonilla and Zúniga as well as the military. I can thus well understand the reports that Zúniga has returned from Washington and his high level meetings in a mood of self-confidence and good humor. The Liberal Party has in effect been pulverized as a result of the March 31 election and its own foolishness and has a long road ahead to pull itself together; the unions have been “put in their place” and for the time being at least their energies must be devoted to internal matters and to rebuilding their strength; the alliance between the unions and the business community of the north coast has been shattered and several individual members of the business community (including Gabriel Mejia) feel cowed, with a fear that their business interests will be made to suffer; the Church is already passively pro-Government while its pro-labor and campesino members have received a warning through the expulsion of the Jesuits Alberdi and Carney. [Page 280] (Although the latter has been readmitted at our instance, stiff conditions have been placed on his activities.) This does leave relatively untouched the only other traditional “power center” of Honduras, i.e. the U.S. Embassy, and it now appears that it is our turn.

In fact, “our turn” began some time ago, perhaps the moment Zúniga felt the López Government was firmly installed, and I think it would be illuminating for Chuck Burrows to tell you of some of the harassments he encountered in his later days as Ambassador and also on some of his subsequent visits here. I think there is no doubt that Zúniga has always regarded the American Embassy as a check or monitor on his undemocratic and unsavory operations and thus a potential enemy of the regime. Zúniga probably looks upon U.S. military and economic assistance as a source of competing rather than supporting political power and in his mind the Embassy is thus his own potential enemy if not the regime’s. In addition to an element of native paranoia which he seems to have, I think it is only fair to recollect that it was long our policy to keep López from coming to power, and I believe that John Dreier, when Ambassador to the OAS, came here in 1957 on a special mission to dissuade López from running.

Since I have been here, while my own relationships on the surface have appeared very good, the Embassy as an institution and individual officers, specifically Bob White, have repeatedly been targets for attack and subject for complaint. While Bob White’s actual departure from here was due to other reasons, I am sure that Zúniga in his own mind takes credit for it as he made a special trip to Washington to raise this matter in early June of this year. My own request for Joe Then’s departure, you will recall, was also based largely on allegations which, although they seem well founded, were made by Zúniga. You will also recall that his deep suspicions of me arose when, at the Department’s bidding, I tried to act as a channel between the Liberals and the President and tried to bring about a reduction in tension following on the March 31 elections. It was at this time that you considered sending an emissary such as Sevilla-Sacasa to insure that President López realized that I was not acting on my own but in accordance with the Department’s instructions.

I am pretty sure that my own difficulty dates from that time and that Zúniga is now ready for bigger game than White and Then. Certainly there was nothing done or said by me during the current strike which would justify even a mild complaint, let alone a request for my removal. The Consulate at San Pedro Sula was in a more unenviable position, being right in the thick of things. I daily preached caution to our Consul, and I think that he capably played out a difficult role of keeping communications open and at a most difficult time. The activities of the visiting AIFLD representative, Mike Hammer, may admittedly have been somewhat injudicious until brought under control by [Page 281] the Consul. But even in his case his actions were more subject to misinterpretation than to actual wrongdoing, and when I found out about them I on my own apologized to Zúniga for his activities and he returned to San Salvador as the strike finished.

I appreciate the Secretary’s suggestion that it might be wise to send a senior Inspector to Tegucigalpa. Much as I would welcome such a visit, I am inclined to feel that it might, as you suggested, serve to undercut my position here at this time. I should point out that in addition to the telegraphic traffic, which was copious, we kept fairly complete records of our telephonic conversations with the Consulate in San Pedro Sula, with some of the Government authorities, and with the Department. Thus rather than to send an Inspector here at this time, I would suggest my sending up our file of telegrams, letters, and memoranda of conversation, as well as memos prepared for me by the Consul covering his activities and those of the AIFLD representative. This material should permit someone on your staff or in the Inspection Corps to reconstruct the situation here in a satisfactory manner. Should, after this, there be questions still unanswered, it would then always be possible to send someone down.

I shall look forward to writing you again after I have had a further chance to sound out the President. In the meantime, I appreciate the position you have taken that if the Government of Honduras desires my removal it would have to formally indicate that I am persona non grata. At the moment I am inclined to agree with your thesis that this was something of a fishing expedition on the part of Zúniga,5 and one which may require no significant follow-up on our part. I can assure you, however, that should I at any time find that my presence here is in fact a hindrance to the carrying out of satisfactory relations with this country, I shall be the first to suggest a move.6

With warm personal regards,

Sincerely yours,

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL HOND–US. Confidential; Eyes Only.
  2. Not found. The letter evidently related the Honduran complaints against Jova as outlined in Document 117.
  3. Jova met López on October 14. Jova enclosed a memorandum of the conversation with an October 15 letter to Oliver in which he reported: “I have heard locally that having failed to get me recalled Zúniga is now attempting to discredit my reputation by circulating vicious fabrications about my personal conduct.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL HOND–US)
  4. Document 108.
  5. Jova added the following handwritten footnote: “the slimiest of characters!”
  6. In a letter to Oliver on October 18 Jova reported that López had been able “to ‘reestablish communications’ between Zúniga and myself.” In a meeting on October 18 Zúñiga denied that it had been his intention to have Jova recalled, blaming instead “those dummies Carías and Midence,” who had misinterpreted and exceeded his instructions during their visit to the United States. Zúñiga pleaded that “we work together closely for the development of Honduras and good relations between our countries.” Although he assured Oliver that “this ‘crisis’ has been overcome,” Jova suggested that the time had come for a change: “I suppose it is only logical that I will be leaving here shortly after the new administration takes over. By that time I will be approaching my 4th anniversary and I would say that even in the best of circumstances that is long enough in a place like this.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL HOND–US) Jova left Honduras on June 21, 1969; 2 weeks later he was appointed U.S. Representative to the Organization of American States.