643. Intelligence Note No. 526 From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hughes) to Secretary of State Rogers1 2

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  • El Salvador-Honduras: Tensions Continue as El Salvador Thwarts Mediation Efforts

Despite a conciliatory mood in Honduras, the Salvadoran/Honduran crisis is deepening because of continued Salvadoran bellicosity. Salvadoran Foreign Minister Guerrero and Economy Minister Rochac have thus far failed to convince President Sanchez that mediation offers the best solution to the dispute which has its roots in Salvadoran migration to Honduras. Military and private pressures in El Salvador for an uncompromising attitude still prevail. Moreover, military officers at all levels are increasingly inclined to adopt the view that military action is the only acceptable and honorable way out of the impasse.

Honduras seems eager to solve dispute. The mood of the Honduran government and people seems to be definitely conciliatory. Honduras has accepted the crucial point two of the 8-point mediation proposal drawn up by the Foreign Ministers of Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Nicaragua and accordingly is willing to withdraw its troops from a five kilometer zone along the border. The government has declared that even undocumented Salvadorans will be readmitted to Honduras if they can prove residence and are willing to regularize their status within thirty days. Honduran businessmen apparently are beginning to miss the well-motivated Salvadoran worker and many are feeling an economic pinch because of the halt in Salvadoran-Honduran trade. Though some ultra-nationalists feel that it is good for Honduras [Page 2] to “go it alone” and anti-Salvadoran feeling is still high in rural areas, most Hondurans admit that normalization of relations is necessary.

El Salvador resisting mediation. El Salvador has continued its intransigent stand, has replied to mediation efforts in public by presenting the mediators with a list of objections to their proposals, and has gone ahead with what can best be described as political and military “mobilization.” Salvadoran Foreign Minister Guerrero and Economy Minister Rochac, both key members of President Sanchez’ government, attempted earlier this week to devise a proposal which the mediators would present to President Sanchez as their own. Sanchez has thus far refused to approve the draft proposal or to indicate that this might be an acceptable device to get mediation underway.

The mood of El Salvador is clearly not conducive to moderation at present. The view that Honduras is the guilty party and must be punished dominates the thinking of the most important members of the military, political and private sectors. The opposition Christian Democratic Party is adding fuel to the fire by cynically attempting to mend its fences with the military by praising the armed forces and their desire to punish Honduras in a military action.

Ominous development in the military. Perhaps the most serious new development within the Salvadoran military is the growing feeling in the upper ranks of the officer corps that a military confrontation seems to be the only “solution.” This attitude first surfaced among junior officers chafing under charges that the armed forces were parasites [Page 3] in peacetime and useless when they were needed to uphold national honor. Blackouts, the mounting of machine guns in aircraft, the dispersal of forces, tight security measures and the stockpiling of supplies by the military, all tend to lend credence to the Honduran charge that El Salvador plans an offensive move.

Time is a key factor if mediation is to succeed. There seems to be a very real possibility that voices for moderation within the Salvadoran government will be overruled by the intensity of current feeling against Honduras and that the Army may attempt to prove its raison d’etre through offensive action. The longer mediation is deferred, the greater the likelihood that some type of military adventure will be undertaken. If such an eventuality can be avoided, it is possible that the Salvadoran memorandum listing its objections to the mediator’s eight points may eventually form a basis for the beginning of a settlement. El Salvador has not rejected all of the points and there are areas, such as the necessity for a negotiated treaty on migration, on which both governments can agree in general terms. Another prospect for moving ahead with mediation lies at present in efforts by the three Central American foreign ministers to establish a permanent presence in each capital in the form of a secretariat furnished by the OAS. Such a presence might induce in both countries a sense of de facto mediation as well as a more cautious attitude in El Salvador. OAS Secretary General Galo Plaza has already indicated that he intends to assign the personnel for such a secretariat as well as a trusted staff member who can play a substantive role in mediation and serve as a channel for his own suggestions.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL EL SAL–HOND. Confidential; Limdis. In a July 14 memorandum to Kissinger, NSC Staff member Viron Vaky reported that notwithstanding Central American and OAS mediation efforts, tensions were increasing and the “chances of a military thrust by El Salvador within the next day or so are high.” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 786, Country Files, Latin America, Honduras–Salvador Dispute)
  2. The Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) reported that despite Central American mediation efforts, Salvadoran bellicosity threatened to deepen the crisis between El Salvador and Honduras.