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

2058. For Assistant Secretary Bowdler and NSC Pastor. Subj: USG Strategy for Honduras Electoral Process Finale.

1. (Secret) Entire text.

2. Following is a resume of current Honduran situation as it concerns United States interests and a proposed strategy for pursuing [Page 876] those interests over the next ninety days, i.e. through inauguration of the constituent assembly.

3. Until now, U.S. strategy in Honduras has been to strongly endorse the military government’s commitment to constituent assembly elections on April 20 as a means of beginning needed change and a return to constitutional order through a peaceful and orderly process. Regional developments reinforced Hondurans’ own recognition of this. We have increased our economic and security assistance in support of the Honduran Government’s economic and national security objectives, which have also gained increased importance in view of regional events. President Paz’s reception in Washington2 and the messages of support from President Carter considerably reinforced our support for the GOH and its own self-confidence.

4. U.S. policy has to date urged a return to constitutional order via elections while recognizing that Hondurans must determine the modalities. By doing so, we have helped in setting the terms of debate and bringing the country to the April 20 elections. Our policy to date, however, has not engaged the issue of whether the constituent assembly should indirectly elect the next president, as is permitted by Honduran political traditions. This has left us implicitly supporting such an outcome, the wisdom of which is becoming increasingly questionable. Fortunately, recent developments now give us the opportunity to advocate direct elections which we believe will not only produce a more viable government, but will be more consistent with our desire for meaningful reform.

5. Taking advantage of DAS Cheek visit, we have received our policy positions and consulted with official and non-official Hondurans.3 We have concluded a revision and fine tuning of current strategy is desirable in order to put greater emphasis on the reform aspect of our policy. The message of support for reform has until now been largely implicit in our support for elections and economic development. It has also been rather general because the situation here, particularly as to political reform, has not permitted being more specific. As a result there is a possiblity some key Hondurans may not clearly understand our expectations in the reform area, nor appreciate the importance of this for continued strong USG military and economic support. We believe, therefore, that the time has come to present a more specific statement [Page 877] of our policy to Hondurans in the government, the military, the political parties, private sector, church and media. We believe that the twenty days before the election are particularly opportune and that our message can have a constructive impact on all concerned.

6. We propose that our message be in the form of a statement of goals of U.S. policy which we would like to see achieved or initiated as the country enters this transitional period to full constitutional rule. The following are the expectations which would form the basis for such a statement:

(1) A constituent assembly whose election is honest and free, and perceived as such, internally and internationally.

(2) Prompt election of an interim government by the constituent assembly in order to return the executive immediately to constitutional status.

(3) Subsequent direct elections (in a reasonable time frame) which will permit the selection through an open, democratic process accepted by a vast majority of the people, of a broadly based and genuinely reformist permanent government.

(4) Reform in government administration, civil and military, to make it more honest and more effective, and thus less vulnerable to leftist attack.

(5) Reinvigoration of the agrarian reform and continued high priority attention to rural poor.

(6) Resolution of the border dispute with El Salvador to permit revitilization of the CACM.

(7) Denial of use of Honduran territory to forces hostile to its neighbors.

7. The modalities of the delivery of this message will be very important to insuring that it is received in a manner to maximize its impact and assure no misinterpretation. Our strategy calls for continued reiteration of points (5), (6) and (7) to all concerned sectors of Honduran Society. Delivery of points (1) through (4) would be limited to General Paz, the military and the political parties as described below. Once some of these key opinion makers publicly adopted these goals as their own, we would be able to openly present them to private sector, the church and the media. As a result of DAS Cheek’s and the Ambassador’s recent conversations, we believe that at least Paz, the military and elements of the Liberal Party will respond positively. The following is the game plan for our approaches:

(A) To President Paz: We recommend a letter from President Carter following on his meeting with Paz, which would put particular emphasis on the reform and election related aspects of our policy.4 This is [Page 878] necessary because the President did not touch specifically on these matters during their meeting. Having discussed security and economic assistance aspects with Paz, we recommend that President Carter now communicate our expectations regarding reform and the elections. In delivering the President’s message the Ambassador would personally re-emphasize all points in para 6 and continue to follow up in her on-going contacts with General Paz.

(B) The military: We believe that we will be able to effectively transmit this message to the members of the armed forces superior council and other appropriate military via U.S. military and civilian members of this Mission. If we perceive a need we might request a high-ranking U.S. military figure to supplement our efforts.

(C) The political parties: The Ambassador and Mission officers will host a series of meetings with the two traditional parties and all other non-Marxist political entities to communicate our policy statement. We do not believe at this time that a supplementary communication from a high-ranking visitor will be necessary. The PINU has already adopted a position very similar to that which is being proposed. Any semblance of dictating to the Hondurans, which would be counterproductive, will be avoided, and our discussions will be private.

8. Once one of the major parties or the military publicly supports the electoral and reform process which we seek (as described para 6) the Embassy can reinforce this with:

(A) The private sector: The Ambassador and Mission officers will also communicate our policy to key members and organizations of the private sector. If the Department could get the Council of the Americas to cooperate in transmitting the same message it would be useful.

(B) The Roman Catholic Church: The Ambassador and Mission officers will enter into a dialogue with the hierarchy relaying our concerns and relating them to the Church’s pastoral letter of January which raised many of the same issues.5 Our Vatican office could reinforce this approach in Rome.

(C) The media: DAS Cheek on an off-the-record basis has stressed the reform aspects of our policy to editorial writers of the three most important newspapers in Honduras. The Ambassador and USICA can continue this dialogue with this receptive audience being more specific.

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9. As recently as two weeks ago there was not sufficient recognition of the need for reform and direct elections to permit such a strategy. By now articulating our more specific policy expectations we can help Hondurans achieve a consensus for a broadly participatory, revived political process and a reform government. If the Department concurs, we should proceed immediately to implement this strategy.6

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800164–0493. Secret; Immediate, Exdis.
  2. See Document 353.
  3. Cheek completed a 5 day visit to Tegucigalpa on April 1 after meeting with Paz, members of the Military Superior Council, and editorialists to outline the U.S. goal of “continuing support for the security of the region, support for economic development and commitment to basic reform.” (Telegram 2092 from Tegucigalpa, April 1; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800166–0158)
  4. See Document 357.
  5. Telegram 464 from Tegucigalpa, January 23, reported that the Honduran Bishops’ Conference had “issued a long pastoral letter (published January 18–19) discussing the political situation in broad terms,” and commented that “the generally conservative Honduran hierarchy has, with this extensive document, taken a first step towards a more active political posture, as happened for more compelling reasons in the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran churches.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800045–0869)
  6. In telegram 93928 to Tegucigalpa, April 10, Bowdler confirmed approval of the Embassy’s “proposed strategy and game plan” and instructed that Jaramillo should “begin implementation immediately.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor Files, Country Files, Box 25, Honduras: 1–4/80) In telegram 2296 from Tegucigalpa, April 12, Jaramillo reported to Bowdler that she had met with Paz that day and had made “the strongest case I could for direct presidential elections.” Paz “agreed on the desirability and took it upon himself to persuade the military and National Party, particularly National leader Zuniga, of the indispensability of further elections and a broadly based government.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P880139–2101)