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

3626. Subj: Possible Changes in Melgar Government. Ref: (A) Tegucigalpa 3591,2 (B) State 192117.3

1. Summary: In an unusual three hour meeting arranged by the request of Armed Forces Commander Paz on July 28, the General gave me his side of recent events that has led to speculation that government changes are in the offing. As is evident from the conversation, Paz and the Supreme Defense Council want change but are not sure how to go about it without precipitating a crisis. This is only the second time I have had this type of meeting with Paz, who sees things quite differently than Batres.4 Paz made it clear the military want free elections to proceed on schedule, and even claimed Melgar would be an acceptable candidate in such elections. Paz denied any involvement in coup plotting. End summary.

2. Paz was very relaxed and initiated our conversation by explaining in detail how the Superior Defense Council (SDC) was established and how it operates.

3. Paz recalled when Melgar had gone to the United States for his medical checkup, and the SDC had left Paz in charge. Paz had then proposed that the Council of Ministers and the SDC meet in order for the SDC to offer help to the Ministries. Since the regional commanders are in the rural areas, they thought they could support the Ministries in their work by keeping them informed as to how projects were developing. He said that the Ministries of Education and Communications were especially out of touch with rural concerns. He related the disappearance of money that had been budgeted for road work but lost before implementation. He said that the military are available to [Page 858] check on the implementation of projects because of their postings in the countryside. This could help the Ministries. Such joint SDC/Ministerial cooperation was not received well by the Ministers.

4. During his long monologue, he repeated that the SDC is not interested in handling money. He said the military does not want to play accountant but feels an obligation to help the country by ensuring that projects are carried out.

5. He said that when Melgar returned, the second joint meeting of the Ministers and the SDC proceeded smoothly. At that time he said a commission composed of both Ministers and the military were to write a document on how they could work together. The Ministers then suggested a large number of tasks that the military could do, but the military refused and reiterated that they only wanted to keep the Ministers informed and help them check on implementation. It was then decided to re-do the initial rough draft. He suggested a number of reasons why the committee and the Ministers have not been able to agree. He said that around the time that these proposals surfaced, there were strikes, land invasions, protest movements, and the general campaign against the military. He said this temporarily shelved the SDC’s original plans.

6. He elaborated at length the problems the Minister of Education faces and how the SDC could help. The biggest complaint against her, according to Paz, is that she does not know how to compromise. She takes a firm position and the opposition never has an opportunity to dialogue. He said the commanders in the rural areas could keep the Minister posted on many important problems that could easily be resolved if she was willing.

7. He explained at length about how the military and he, himself have been victims of a malicious campaign. He mentioned that they have tried to connect him to coup plotting, narcotics trafficking, to the Ferrari deaths, to the Olancho killings,5 and to the Gamero arrest.

8. Paz told me about the three military who had been arrested in the narcotics scandal. One had been dishonorably discharged and two [Page 859] were suspended from the army for two years. (Tegucigalpa 3596).6 He emphasized the SDC only thinks about the good of the country. They know they must keep a good reputation in order to attract industry and commerce, but they do want some immediate changes done for the benefit of the poor.

9. He said that after the date for the elections was announced, the campaign against the military got worse which leads them to believe that much of it is political in nature. He said the Communists, the mafia, and many politicians who don’t care about the country, and even some fellow military who are weak, are involved in this campaign.

10. He also said that some of the autonomous government agencies were misusing their power. He specifically discussed Conadi and Cohdefor, outlining some of their shortcomings.

11. He read portions of a letter that Bogran (owner of El Tiempo) wrote to Reina, the rector of the National University, criticizing Paz and suggesting ways of discrediting him. He also talked about how Lopez Arellano, former chief of state, has joined the leftist group to try to discredit the Paz commanded military.

12. In discussing his and President Melgar’s relationship, he said that Melgar had refused to take a strong public stance on the narcotics scandal and that he, Paz, had to have a press conference explaining the military’s position.7 This had infuriated the Minister of Culture, Tourism and Information because he felt he was the government’s spokesman. He also recounted his and Melgar’s entire professional careers. Obviously, both have been competitors with Melgar already having been a Lieutenant when Paz joined the service.

13. Although Paz did not pause in his three-hour monologue, when we were about to end our meeting, I asked him if Melgar were to be a candidate, would the military support him. Without any hesitation he said the military would support him and that the military have great interest in having free elections because they want to return to the barracks.

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14. Paz rambled over a large number of topics (already reported by [less than 1 line not declassified]) often talking about himself, his career, and occasionally just talking about the country in general, or isolated events that are of little importance to Washington at this time, but will be used in biographic reporting.8

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780315–0219. Confidential; Priority; Limdis.
  2. In telegram 3591 from Tegucigalpa, July 31, the Embassy promised a separate telegram reporting on Jaramillo’s discussion with Paz. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780313–0781)
  3. In telegram 192117 to Tegucigalpa, July 29, the Department instructed Jaramillo to issue “some reasonably delicate sign of support” for the Melgar government and its commitment to “initiating the process of institutionalizing democratic procedures” in Honduras. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780312–0257)
  4. In telegram 3486 from Tegucigalpa, July 25, the Embassy reported that Cesar Batres had noted on July 24 that the Armed Forces Superior Defense Council had asked for the “immediate resignations of Melgar’s personal advisers, the heads of four autonomous agencies and four Cabinet Ministers” and that Melgar “replied by offering his resignation.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780305–0709)
  5. In an August 4, 1979, briefing memorandum to Vance, Vaky noted that in July 1975 Honduran security forces killed 14 people, including U.S. citizen Father Jerome Cypher, during a “hunger march and land invasion” in Olancho province. Two Army officers were convicted of murder in February 1978, “while nine other defendants were acquitted.” Upon appeal the Supreme Court “found all but one of the eleven defendants, both military and civilian, guilty of murder,” and imposed jail sentences. Vaky characterized the ruling as a “human rights success in Honduras” and concluded that “the message is clear: shooting campesinos in Honduras can land you in jail.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P790133–1700)
  6. Telegram 3227 from Tegucigalpa, July 7, provided a chronology of the narcotics scandal involving the kidnapping and murder of alleged narcotics smugglers Mario and Mary Ferrari and the accusation by the Chief of the Honduran Police, Interpol Section, of “high-level military involvement in narcotics trafficking.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780283–0133) Telegram 3596 from Tegucigalpa, August 1, reported that Major Armando Calidonio and Lieutenant Carlos Coello had been suspended from duty for two years and Lieutenant Juan Angel Barahona, former Head of the Interpol Unit, was dismissed from the Army for “irregularities” in handling the investigation of the Ferrari case. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780315–0972)
  7. Telegram 1243 from Tegucigalpa, March 10, reported on Paz’s press conference regarding the Ferrari case, drug trafficking, and the Honduran-Nicaraguan border. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780145–0734)
  8. Not Found.