489. Memorandum From Paul Henze of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1



This CIA paper bears the marks of having been rather hastily put together. On the theory that doing something in this volatile area is better than doing nothing, its proposals nevertheless need to be seriously considered.2

[Page 1288]

The paper includes status reports on what has been accomplished to date in previously approved programs for Nicaragua and El Salvador—TABS A and B.

New proposals in this paper relate to Honduras and Guatemala—TABS C and D.

Considering the magnitude of what is aimed at—insulation of these societies from susceptibility to Cuban manipulation and reorientation of them along pro-American, democratic lines—the proposals are modest.

Media and agents-of-influence operations are proposed but are not thought likely, by themselves, to have significant impact (Option #1).

Option #2 proposes provision of assistance to the intelligence services of Honduras and Guatemala to help them combat terrorism and insurgency. Option #3 proposes support for moderate, reform-minded leaders and organizations. It also envisions enlisting the help of like-minded individuals in neighboring Latin American countries and selected Europeans to further the same purposes.

Options #2 and #3 are judged to require a new Presidential Finding. A draft text is provided at TAB E.3

RECOMMENDATION: The proposals are actually much less specific than they first seem. What CIA is asking for is a general “hunting license”4 to become active in the covert action area in Honduras and Guatemala. This is desirable. A beginning must be made somewhere. Recommend endorsement.


Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency for the Special Coordination Committee5


  • Covert Action Options for Central America

1. INITIATIVE: This proposal originated within CIA, but reflects the shared concern of senior CIA, DOD and other USG officials about increasing Cuban involvement in Central America. Liaison services [Page 1289] throughout the hemisphere believe that Cuba is replacing the United States as the dominant influence in Central America and fear that the USG is either unwilling or unable to react. None of these services (or the governments that they represent) is prepared to take on the Cubans; but several might be willing to cooperate with a U.S.-sponsored regional program. This possibility has not been discussed with any of them, however, pending the approval which is being requested in this memorandum.

2. ISSUES FOR DECISION: The basic issue is whether the level of the threat to Central America posed by Cuban-supported terrorism and insurgency is great enough to warrant a decision to take overt and covert actions which would encourage the countries of the region to resist Cuban-supported terrorism and insurgency concurrently with overt and covert actions which would prompt Honduras and Guatemala to institute needed social and political reforms.


Option No. 1: Develop a covert action infrastructure (media and agent of influence operations) within the region and in appropriate third countries to encourage Central American countries to resist Cuban-supported terrorism and insurgency. This option by itself is unlikely to have a significant impact.

RISK: LowCOST: Absorbable within current funding levels

Option No. 2: Provide assistance to the liaison services of Honduras and Guatemala to enable them to deal with Cuban-supported terrorism and insurgency; such assistance would take the form of training, materiel and on-the-scene counsel and would have to form part of a large USG overt assistance package. As a quid pro quo and enducement for that assistance, support USG efforts to end human rights abuses in Guatemala and to promote needed social and political reforms in Honduras.6

RISK: ModerateCOST: [dollar amount not declassified]

Option No. 3: Identify, support and encourage moderate and reform-minded leaders and organizations in Guatemala and Honduras. Use them as well as selected individuals, institutions, and third countries [2 lines not declassified] to encourage significant political, social and economic reforms.

RISK: ModerateCOST: [dollar amount not declassified]

4. COMMENTS: It is generally accepted that Nicaragua is presently very heavily Cuban-influenced (if not controlled). El Salvador is tottering. Guatemala is believed to be “next” on the Cuban priority list [Page 1290] and it is anticipated that within another six months to a year Guatemala will be in a situation roughly similar to present-day Nicaragua or El Salvador. Honduran Communist party members are currently being trained in assassination and terrorism techniques and are presently engaged in providing logistical support to the transshipment of arms through Honduras to Guatemala and El Salvador. It is anticipated that an active level of terrorism/insurgency could break out in Honduras within the next year to year and one half, particularly if the new Honduran Government does not initiate some needed social reforms and significantly curtail government corruption. Both Costa Rica and Panama have been extensively “used” by the Cubans as channels for support to terrorism/insurgency within the four Central American countries of concern. Both Panama and Costa Rica have potentially positive roles to play in the region and both should be encouraged to participate in a regional effort to encourage peaceful reform and the exercise of self-determination.

Enclosed as TABS A and B are updates on activities carried out in support of the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran Findings. Enclosed as TABS C and D are details on the programs being proposed for Honduras and Guatemala.

A regional overt and covert policy for the Central American region is sorely needed. The absence of such a policy will almost certainly be viewed by other countries in the hemisphere, and perhaps elsewhere, as an abrogation of the USG’s responsibility within an area which has traditionally been regarded as a zone of USG influence. Non-action will be tantamount to declaring disinterest in the area and will imply a willingness to allow other (non-regional) countries to call the shots. On the positive side, U.S. influence in the region is still potentially high and much can be accomplished if the USG is willing to make a public commitment to oppose Cuban-supported terrorism and insurgency and to promote needed reforms.

While USG overt commitment to the continuing stability of the region is an imperative, overt policy can be supplemented by the covert actions proposed in this paper.

5. FINDING: Options 2 and 3 outlined in paragraph three require a specific Finding and reporting to the Congressional Oversight Committees in accordance with Section 662 of the Foreign Assistance Act, as amended. Enclosed as TAB E is the proposed text of a specific Presidential Finding.

6. SOURCE OF FUNDS: [1 line not declassified]

  1. Source: National Security Council, Carter Administration Intelligence Files, Box I022, SCC(I) Meeting, Cover Action, PB Henze, 7 April 1980. Secret; Sensitive. Tabs A–E are attached but not printed.
  2. In another April 3 memorandum to Brzezinski, Henze noted that an SCC(I) was scheduled for April 7 to discuss covert action. He also endorsed the CIA proposals for Honduras and Guatemala. He remarked that they were “along the same lines already approved for Nicaragua and El Salvador,” and added “though modest and not too specifically formulated, these proposals represent a desirable beginning if we are to try to protect our interests in this vital region.” (Ibid.)
  3. For the final version of Tab E, see Document 355.
  4. An unknown hand wrote “no” in the margin next to this sentence.
  5. Secret; Sensitive.
  6. An unknown hand wrote “?” in the margin next to this sentence.