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

2408. For Assistant Secretary Bowdler. Also pass NSC for Robert Pastor. Subj: Implementation of US Electoral Strategy for Honduras. Ref: Tegucigalpa 2380.2

1. (S-Entire text)

2. Evening of April 16, General Paz told a nationwide radio-television hookup that the armed forces favored direct elections of the next President, believing that the upcoming constituent assembly should limit itself to drafting a constitution. Paz claimed nationally that he is not seeking a full term as constitutional President. (But he did not preclude this possibility.) Morning of April 17, Paz briefed me on events leading to his dramatic announcement, which shocked the two major parties who had been planning to name a President if they won. Paz counselled me to be very circumspect in my contacts over the next days because the parties accused him of acting on behalf of the United States.

3. Paz reported that on April 15 he met with key military officers, outlining electoral strategy steps that had to be taken. Paz kept referring to my “seven points” which the military apparently agreed to.3

4. Honduran military and Paz met with four political groupings on April 16, encountering resistance to direct elections from Nationals and Liberals.

—National Party: Paz said that PNH leaders Zuniga and Rivera Lopez were furious. A screaming Zuniga blamed the Department of State and string of U.S. emissaries who had come to visit, violating Honduras’ sovereignty. Paz countered that US had not meddled and that need for direct elections was due to armed forces reaction to regional events. In telling argument, according to Paz, Paz told Zuniga that Honduras does not get along with Nicaragua and El Salvador. Paz asked Zuniga if he wanted to quarrel with United States too. Zuniga was resentful that United States would not accept present electoral process, remarking that only 20 percent of the electorate votes in the Andean countries. Zuniga finally came around to armed forces position, suggesting to Paz that the interim government should not try [Page 882] to incorporate all philosophies if it wanted to get anything done. Paz commented that Zuniga had been going around using Paz’ name. Paz said that Zuniga wanted the armed forces to act as his firemen, figuring out whatever problems arose. (During course of this day we have been told that nationalists are very bitter over armed forces support for direct election, thereby depriving Zuniga of the presidency he thought would be his via indirect elections. (People are saying it was the United States’ doing.)

—Liberal Party: The Liberals were almost equally mad, according to Paz. He said that the Liberals had been planning to elect Suazoucordoba indirectly as President if they won. If the Liberals lost, they had planned to shout fraud and demand direct elections.

PINU which had campaigned for direct elections was elated.

—“Rebels”: Paz and the military spent the most time with the “revoltosos” (a grouping of Christian Democrats and leftists). At Paz’ insistence, the colonels spent several hours with this group, learning more about their views. When they met, Paz’ first gesture was to order the release of a number of arrested Christian Democratic activists who had been plastering Tegucigalpa’s walls with illegal abstentionist flyers. Paz said that an individual named Becerra was the most vocal of several leftist leaders in the group. They told Paz that if 700,000 people voted, it was too low; if over 700,000 voted, there had to be fraud. They advocated an eight point program, calling upon Paz to execute a palace coup and form a new reform government. In the following order, the “rebels” called for: massive and accelerated agrarian reform; massive and accelerated educational reform; price controls for basic commodities; nationalization of foreign trade; restriction of multinationals; the abolishment of repressive (sic) legislation; the expansion of foreign relationships (Paz takes this to mean relations with Cuba); and a new and unrestricted political party law.

5. Paz kept returning to National Party resentment over the electoral strategy, insistent that it was fortunate that I had not tried to deliver the message he had. He was rather insistent that I maintain a low profile between now and the April 20 elections in order to let tempers cool. He described all the steps the military are taking to ensure a peaceful vote but he was not at all convinced he would succeed.

6. With the military espousing direct elections as USG hoped, I turned to the next most difficult issue: the question of an interim government. Paz felt that it should not be in office for too long or too short a period. He said time was needed to produce a good electoral law and overcome the many, many deficiencies of the current law. Paz said he was thinking of 18 to 24 months. He also mentioned his hope that a representative, coalition-type cabinet might be formed during the interim period.

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7. He also had the problem of corruption very much on his mind, although he refers to it as “administrative reform.” He said that the junior officers are being told that Honduras’ colonels are robbers who own many cars and homes, and that the senior officers [garble] to Miami the minute there is violence. Paz was concerned about maintaining military unity and reassuring the junior officers that the armed forces overall are working in the best interests of Honduras.

8. Paz reminded me that it may take several days to tally the results of the April 20 election, which cannot be declared official until 30 days transpire. The assembly must meet before sixty days expire, after the official election results are in. In other words, the assembly will probably not meet before mid-July.

9. Comment: We have now all but secured direct elections of the next full-term President of Honduras. Next tests will be the kind of interim government that will be selected by the constitutional assembly, how long the interim period will last, and the role of the assembly. While the military know generally what we want, we had best not push the parties or media in any direction until the dust settles after the election. We may have to do some fence-mending with the parties. We must also be careful that Paz not appear as our surrogate. We have much to think about but the armed forces public espousal of direct elections was a quantum step in the right direction.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800191–0766. Secret; Niact Immediate, Exdis.
  2. Telegram 2380 from Tegucigalpa, April 17, reported that Paz had announced that the Honduran military supported direct presidential elections and had “no pact with any political party.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800190–0825)
  3. See Document 354.