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

329. ARA for Asst Secretary Bowdler and DAS Cheek. Subject: Paz on Border Situation: “What Does US Want me to do?” Ref: Tegucigalpa 0284.2

1. (S-Entire text)

2. I had a long, very frank and fruitful meeting with President Paz. He was very much at ease, albeit slightly embarrassed by his recent fall from the wagon, and we covered a wide range of subjects. As indicated reftel, he was taken aback by possibility US might decide to withdraw helicopter from OAS observer Mission. Major themes, however, were refugee and security situations on border.

3. He confirmed that GOH is seriously considering establishment of refugee camps, but is concerned about legal and financial implications. GOH has not yet recognized Salvadorans fleeing from violence as refugees, since such a decision would impose certain obligations which they are not prepared to accept. Juridically speaking, he noted, Salvadorans are displaced persons, not refugees. And given current state of GOH finances, he said, the burden imposed by declaring them refugees would be too great. When I pointed out that international agencies, especially UNHCR, were required to provide needed assistance in such cases, he agreed, but noted Honduran experience with Nicaraguan [Page 897] influx left him with little confidence in UNHCR. While he is definitely concerned with humanitarian problems posed by Salvadoran influx, his principal concerns are security implications and possible financial and social burden on Honduras. Establishment of camps, he believes, is the only solution to security problem, but GOH simply cannot afford to go it alone.

4. After a great deal of dancing around the gut issue—what USG might be willing to do to help with this dilemma—he finally said “we will do whatever you want us to do on both the refugee and security issues.” I explained USG position on refugee question—that its international problems which comes under jurisdiction of UNHCR and other agencies—but said I was sympathetic to his problem and would pass his comments on to my government. On security issue, I said I had been meeting with my military people for several weeks trying to develop a plan of action to improve Honduran capabilities without significantly increased resources. We had come up with a number of ideas, and would like to meet with Chief of Staff and other key officers to discuss these ideas. I stressed that they would be free to reject, modify or accept our recommendations as they wished, but I thought that by initiating such discussions we could produce positive results. He seized this suggestion with alacrity and said he would chair the meeting. I will forward details of our current proposals by septel3—for the most part they draw on existing Mission resources, or can be funded under existing programs.

5. It was clear that Paz is prepared to help the Salvadorans in any way we suggest. He did not raise the apparent Salvadoran airlift request specifically, nor did he allude to his recent visitors.4 He gave no hint of anything GOH may already be doing to help Salvadorans, but did express explicitly his satisfaction with USG decision to resume military assistance to El Salvador.

6. In subsequent meeting with Codel Studds and Mikulski, Paz responded to question as to GOH intentions about refugees by reaf [Page 898] firming that he would do whatever USG wished him to do. In ensuing discussion Mikulski said she believed USG should take leading role in this matter and assured Paz she would do what she could to push US into such a position. Both Congressmen were impressed by Paz’ responsiveness, but I detected some latent concern on Studds’ part as to Paz’ obvious dependent posture.

7. As you are aware from my previous communications, I believe we must take a forward position on the refugee problem and move with dispatch.5 A cable responding to questions earlier raised by Department follows.6 If we fail to move on this, there is—at least in my judgement—a very real possibility that we will be contributing to downfall of GOES and allowing seeds of future subversion to be planted on Honduran soil. The establishment of refugee camps seems to me to be the only way the GOH can come to grips with both the security and humanitarian problems. If we are unable to find the resources to help them set up these camps, ultimate cost is likely to be much higher.7

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D810023–0929. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Sent for information to San Salvador.
  2. In telegram 284 from Tegucigalpa, January 15, Binns reaffirmed his “strong recommendation” that the helicopter support for the Organization of American States’ observers be extended for an additional 6 months. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D810021–1171)
  3. In telegram 336 from Tegucigalpa, January 16, the Embassy described a six-point program to enhance the capabilities of the Honduran armed forces, within existing security assistance program levels, that Binns planned on discussing with Paz and Honduran military leaders on January 21. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D810024–0002)
  4. In telegram 222 from Tegucigalpa, January 13, Binns reported that the Embassy had “been approached informally by middle ranking Honduran officer, asking how USG would view Honduran Air Force providing air lift of supplies to Salvadoran forces along border.” Binns commented: “Apparently GOES has made such a request.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D810017–1123) In telegram 335 from Tegucigalpa, January 16, the Embassy informed the Department of press reports that FDR/DRU representatives had visited Tegucigalpa. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, [no film number])
  5. In telegram 77 from Tegucigalpa, January 6, Binns noted “widespread apprehension” among Hondurans spurred by “the latest Salvadoran refugee influx.” Binns advocated a leadership role for the U.S. Government in urging the establishment of refugee camps. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, [no film number])
  6. In telegram 9168 to Tegucigalpa, January 14, the Department expressed appreciation for the approach Binns and the country team had taken on the refugee situation and expressed interest in providing humanitarian assistance to the Salvadoran refugees in Honduras, but without direct U.S. Government involvement. It also asked to have information on the Salvadoran refugee situation in Honduras. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D810019–0142) In telegram 346 from Tegucigalpa, January 17, Binns supplied answers to the questions posed by the Department and reiterated his endorsement of U.S. Government support for constructing refugee camps in Honduras. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D810024–0484)
  7. In telegram 412 from Tegucigalpa, January 20, the Embassy reported that Paz had appointed a commission to make recommendations on the estimated 25,000 Salvadoran refugees in Honduras. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D810030–0808)