Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 58 | Abril 1986



New Government Faces Old Dilema

Envío team

While the short period of time since the January 27, 1986 inauguration of José Azcona de Hoyo as Honduras' President makes it difficult to assess the new government, a few important events indicate the direction it may take. Foremost among these is the continuation of military maneuvers involving US troops, which, together with the agreements that make the maneuvers possible, have created problematic contradictions within Honduras. The new government would like to rid itself of these contradictions but despite declarations and posturing designed to achieve this, reactions and pressures from the Reagan administration have forced Azcona to confront Honduras' historical weakness and obligations.

We present an analysis of the most recent incident in which the Azcona government found itself embroiled: the supposed invasion of Honduran territory by the Sandinista Popular Army (EPS). This month's news analysis includes an interpretation of this incident from Nicaragua's perspective. In this article we’ll demonstrate the important contradictions in the Honduran government’s posture made apparent in these recent events along the Nicaraguan-Honduran border. We’ll analyze in succession the immediate antecedents of this crisis, President Azcona's inauguration, his inaugural address and the downfall of General Walter López. Finally, we’ll examine US military maneuvers and military constructions in Honduras, since it is US military policy towards Honduras that is weakening the Honduran government and preventing the stabilization of the Central American region.

Honduran reaction to the border incident

"We aided the contras with the hope that, with US backing, they would win the war quickly, but this hasn’t happened and the Nicaraguan war has now extended to our borders." This declaration, made to AFP at the beginning of April by a high Honduran official who requested anonymity, best sums up the meaning of the Honduran response to the border incident. Caught between refusing to publicly admit the presence of counterrevolutionary military bases in its territory and fearing that a contra defeat could involve the country in a war with Nicaragua, the Honduran government has tried in recent weeks to steer a course through the storm by turning a deaf ear, resisting pressures wherever possible, retreating, accusing, denying, clarifying and correcting. In the end, it offered the spectacle of a comedy full of surprises and dramatic effects. There is no doubt that the recently formed government’s image and political position has rapidly deteriorated both nationally and internationally. The oscillations of the Honduran government during the crisis were truly wide-swinging. What follows is a brief chronological summary of the different postures assumed by the Honduran government as events unfolded in March.

Silence and indifference

From the beginning, Honduran officials kept silent and even denied reports from Washington of a supposed Nicaraguan "invasion" of Honduras. On Monday March 24, government press secretary Lisandro Quezada read from a prepared statement: "We have no knowledge of this and if we had, the foreign ministry would already have protested." He went even further, offering an interpretation of the US denunciation as "part of the campaign to achieve approval of aid for the Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries."

Friday, March 21, Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs Elliott Abrams had made a suspicious, unannounced visit to Tegucigalpa. According to The Miami Herald, which quoted anonymous US officials, the Honduran government showed no concern over the ongoing Nicaraguan incursion. According to the same article, the US had expressed its concern over Honduran security to Azcona's government, requesting that he denounce the incident internationally. Nevertheless, Tegucigalpa again reacted with indifference, stating that it was a confrontation between the contras and the Sandinistas, which concerned those two actors and the US but not Honduras. The US then chose to apply greater pressure: "If you don’t admit the problem on the border," related the anonymous official to The Miami Herald, "then perhaps you don't need our money and assistance."

Concern and accusations

On March 25 the Honduran government responded to the stronger pressure from the Reagan administration by denouncing the incursion. The day before, President Reagan had announced the approval of US$20 million in emergency aid and offered the help of US helicopters with US pilots to transfer Honduran troops to the border area, where there had evidently been no Honduran troops before the incident began. It is noteworthy that Honduras, with the largest air force in Central America, had to fall back on US air support to move its troops in light of the "emergency," however its Armed Forces did not see it fit to suspend any Holy Week passes.

Two steps back, one step forward

Why did the Honduran government wait at least three days to recognize the Nicaraguan "invasion"? Why didn't President Azcona mention it to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega during their phone conversation on Sunday, March 23? And why didn't Azcona, in the midst of what was being referred to as "the worst crisis between the two countries," consider it necessary to cut short his Holy Week vacation? The Honduran government responded indirectly to these and other questions a few days later: there are "sectors interested in activating an armed conflict with Nicaragua" and because of this the government "acted with deliberation and care." In a clear reference to the presence in Tegucigalpa of General John Galvin, Southern Command Chief in Panama, and to the contras, the Honduran government added that they "couldn’t leave the management of the situation in foreign or unskilled hands."

Later in the week, anonymous Honduran officials fanned the fire of debate by speaking of pressure from Washington. They affirmed that the US had exaggerated the danger for Honduras, adding that the Honduran government knew perfectly well that the Sandinistas’ objective was the contra bases located along the border. One official said that "because the confrontations aren’t with us, we let them go on. We’re not going to lead our country into a war over fighting between the contras and the Sandinistas." The official stated that for the same reason, Honduras wasn’t going to recognize the contras' presence in Honduran territory: "They are a card that we can’t toss aside; they could mean significant advantages for Honduras." These unprecedented off-the-record remarks by Honduran officials produced predictably strong counter measures from Washington. The US corporate press chose to publicized them, causing obvious discomfort for the Reagan Administration, which asked the Honduran government to publicly deny the accusations of pressure and clarify the facts.

The Honduran government responded on Friday, April 4. In a speech that vacillated between great affirmations of principle and cautious moderations, President Azcona defended his government's conduct, saying it had acted "without internal or external pressures." He reaffirmed the solidity of the alliance with the US: "Honduras is committed to calling for US military support as often as is necessary." He noted that there’s a "special security relationship with the US" that implies, among other things, the permanence of US bases and military maneuvers in Honduras.

After accusing Nicaragua of having violated Honduran sovereignty—Nicaragua denied these charges—Azcona softened his denunciation. He said that during the altercations with the counterrevolutionary forces "the actions could have spilled over the common border." Azcona finished by reiterating his support for Contadora and the proposal for "national reconciliation," which in Nicaragua's case means dialogue between the contras and the Sandinistas.

Does this mean that everything was clarified and President Reagan was satisfied? Not yet. The scandal erupted again after a Honduran presidential spokesperson issued a statement indicating that the Honduran government didn’t request the US$ 20 million in emergency aid approved by President Reagan on March 24. According to the official, Honduras had only solicited "air transportation to move Honduran soldiers rapidly." The question remains, if Honduras didn’t request the US$ 20 million, who did? Perhaps the contras who, according to some sources, will be the real beneficiaries of the aid.

Antecedents to the border crisis

Just eight days after Azcona's inauguration, General Walter López was dismissed from his post as commander-in-chief of the Honduran Armed Forces. The replacement of General López appears to have been the new government's first step in carrying out the program outlined in Azcona's speech. An examination of all the elements help to clarify the immediate context surrounding the Honduran government's reaction to the border incident and the significance of the President's speech and General López' departure.

The President's inaugural speech

Azcona's January 27 inauguration speech touches on the political economic and ideological aspects of a diversity of themes and social problems. For the most part, the speech stays at an abstract and theoretical level, with Promethian overtones. Because problems are mentioned without being examined closely and the structural causes of each situation aren’t taken into account, the speech fails to provide an adequate solution or policy. As in the electoral campaign, there’s no political program with which to confront the situation or guidelines for action that might produce any kind of short- or long-term solution.

The President proposed "the coordination of a social pact through which all national sectors can channel their efforts to once and for all truly promote economic and social development in the service of the common good." He promised only that "he would never subordinate this common good to private interests or those of power groups." In order to implement this project he would only need to adopt an "iron will," "unshakable honesty" and "love at all cost of our country and our people."

Apart from this voluntarist rhetoric, an admirable ideology was offered for this social pact: the causal structural mechanisms of almost all the nation's problems (inequality, injustice, poverty, unemployment, indebtedness, etc.) are ignored and it is assumed that the cost of this social pact will fall upon some (workers, peasants and the poor majorities), while the benefit will accrue to a privileged minority. Given that US aid won’t be sufficient to enable Honduras to realize these desired goals, the national project will have to concentrate on using human resources as the principal source of productive energy. The emphasis will be placed on the agricultural sector combined with an acceleration and amplification of agrarian reform. The agricultural businesses will receive incentives and protection, and an attempt will be made to encourage the national capitalist class and agroindustry. There will be priority interest in small and medium industry. At the same time, an invitation has been extended to foreign investors along with the needed guarantees.

The speech then turns to the themes of unemployment (scourge of the nation and breeding ground for social rebellion), social assistance, young people, women, education, health, exploitation of natural resources, and administrative organization of the state. All of these themes appeared in a long and linear descriptive list with no organic or dialectic digressions for any of the points. No attempt was made to place any of theme in the context of society as a whole or to detail their significance, the determinant causes behind them or possible solutions.

Finally, in reference to the present state of the country, Azcona spoke of an island of peace in the midst of the apocalyptic vortex of civil war." Foreign policy will be guided by respect for non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states and the free self-determination of peoples, total support for the Contadora and Support groups in the resolution of Central American problems, and Latin American Unity. In closing, he mentioned the US in the invariable friendship and maintenance of common ideals, the European Common Market, Japan and Canada. In the domestic plan he mentioned the liberals, all compatriots and the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces.

It appears as if the main objective of the speech was to satisfy, at least rhetorically, all social sectors. This approach attempts to ignore the contradictions posed by antagonistic interests and to suggest that the rhetoric of the moment is sufficient to confront the country's situation. The following segments demonstrate the contradictions of the speech: "It would not be just to allow the payment of the external debt to aggravate the hunger and misery which our country is already suffering..."; "We have to improve the quality of life for the great majority of the population, food, housing, books, recreation..."; "We will struggle so that the future appears... as a horizon on which the threats of unemployment, hunger, sickness, will vanish. We will have to strengthen ourselves so that Hondurans feel truly guaranteed the enjoyment in full and every one of the rights assigned them in the Constitution of the Republic"; "I will not rest one instant from my pledge to see that not one Honduran lives thirsting for justice."

At the international level, the President referred twice to what alignment with the bulk of the Latin American countries might mean. "We will seek the renegotiation of our debt, by all possible means, in solidarity with Latin American countries if necessary"; "strengthening ties in defense of common interests among these, renegotiation of the external debt and the struggle to improve prices for our export products." This complements the previously mentioned support for Contadora and implicitly a political and negotiated solution for Central America.

This first presidential speech definitely demonstrates the lack of any serious and profound analysis of the national situation and a certain subordination of the national project to foreign interests, although not without failing to show a certain ambiguous allusion to voluntarist desires and inefficiencies in other areas.

The fall of Walter López

The initial weakness of the Azcona government was illustrated a few days after the inauguration on February 2, when General Walter López publicly announced his resignation as Armed Forces chief. López claimed that personal problems and fatigue were the reasons for his resignation, but these convinced few and did nothing to explain the internal crisis in the Armed Forces and the government itself. The Honduran daily ¬Tiempo presented its analysis in an editorial on February 3: "The truth is that General López was thrown out of power by his peers in the Armed Forces and in fact, forced to temporarily leave the country. This was a unanimous decision taken by the Superior Council of the Armed Forces." Why were such actions taken? The editorial provides the key to this question: "[US] policy towards the [Nicaraguan conflict] has turned our entire political arena upside down because of the contradiction facing this policy in the US itself and because of the contradictions between the interests of the Reagan administration and the legitimate interests of Honduras, which definitely do not coincide in this case."

The following day ¬Tiempo ran another article on the subject: "The details surrounding the coup within the military are still incomplete and uncertain, although it has to do with general infighting within the military society, and above all, with its interest in maintaining and if possible increasing military influence on the Honduran government’s management of politics."

The national press criticized this tendency towards a "militarized democracy" where, in practice, the Armed Forces control power to the detriment of civil society, calling it the "abnormality of Honduran democracy." especially after it was established that the Armed Forces Superior Council had deposed their chief, completely disregarding the National Congress that had named him. Meanwhile, government spokespeople from the Congress, the National Party, etc. were claiming that "everything is normal," tacitly accepting that it’s "normal" for the Armed Forces to function autonomously; outside and even above constitutional law. The government was tacitly allowing the Armed Forces to maintain their primacy over civil society.

Transformations within the Armed Forces over the last few years have brought the military structure "up to date." Changes strictly adhere to US policy for Central America and include the implementation of a high-intensity counterinsurgency plan. This plan has in effect, led to the suppression of any type of opposition and any alternative program from the mass organizations. The predictable crisis that surrounded the dismissal of General Alvarez and only a few of his men did not bring into question the two basic premises: Honduras' alliance to the US and its participation in the regional counterinsurgency plan. What is brought into question is the way to advance this plan, always within a political framework in which the Armed Forces hold ¬de facto¬ power. The question is whether to maintain a high profile of autonomy—and this seems to be the line pursued by General López—or on the contrary, have the high command assume a subdued tone, permitting the civilian government apparent control and negotiating capacity, and in effect more direct intervention by the US in Honduran politics. In any case, an alternative beyond this counterinsurgency project is unlikely. The declarations of the present Armed Forces chief, General Humberto Regalado Hernandez, concerning military maneuvers in the Mosquitia or amnesty for political prisoners can be understood in this light.

Internally, on the other hand, there is Azcona's position regarding the democratic political process of the country. The National Congress has not authorized the presence of a Nicaraguan rebel army in the country, much less the introduction of arms and provisions for this army. Nor has it officially agreed to permit this army to carry out aggression and acts of war against a neighboring country. Up to now the Congress and the "Azcona-Callejas" alliance have ratified these acts by their silence and consent and if the situation changes, it will likely become more manifest and increase the structural weakness Azcona encountered at the outset of his presidency. This series of handicaps could prove insurmountable and so far it seems that Azcona has failed to put his finger on the national pulse. If silence has characterized the President up until now, the facts have defined his position before he could do so officially. The agreement with the Reagan administration will lead to a national project in which Honduras' own interests and those of the great majorities will count for little. It will also exert a great deal of pressure for a military solution to the Central American conflict. Honduras' foreign policy will be a continuation of the previous one and lead to growing isolationism in relation to Latin America. Domestically the government will be faced with an Armed Forces with full powers outside of the Congress and a commander who in his first declarations maintained a hard counterinsurgency line, recalling the "good old days" of General Alvarez; with a congress that from the start was ¬de facto¬ in agreement with this situation, but which at any moment could break the Azcona-Callejas pact.

In addition to the previous situation, both of the two traditional parties failed to unify and significant changes in the short and medium term are foreseeable that could make the President's dilemma even more unstable. Although things are still up in the air, the future appears gloomy, uncertain and threatening. Will Azcona be capable of managing this situation and will he have the room to do it?

US military policy toward Honduras:
¬"Cabanas 86" and other military maneuvers¬

On March 3, military maneuvers called "Cabanas 86" were begun in the Mosquitia region of Honduras.* In the first stage of these maneuvers (approximately one month), between 400 and 500 military engineers of the 27th Battalion of Engineers’ Tiger Task Force, based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, will construct a 4,100 ft. airstrip for Hercules C-130 cargo planes together with Honduran troops. In the second stage, 2,500 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, a combat unit also based in Fort Bragg that played the principal role in the invasion of Grenada, will join 2,500 soldiers from various Honduran battalions to participate in "special operations" maneuvers.

*The December 1985 issue of envío contains an article on maneuvers up to that date.

Cabanas 86 will be carried out near the small town of Durzuna, near Mocorón, less than 20 kilometers from the Nicaraguan border . The first stage was marked by the establishment of an air bridge between Fort Bragg and Durzuna (seven hours by direct flight) for three days, using six Hercules C-130s and eight C-141s, dropping by parachute not only the US soldiers but also 450 tons of heavy equipment including dump trucks, graders, excavators, tractors, etc. In the Granadero I maneuvers, US troops with small jeeps arrived by parachute in the Comayagua valley, near the town of Las Flores, but "Cabanas 86” are the first maneuvers in Honduras in which heavy equipment has been delivered by parachute. Upon finishing the airstrip, the engineers and their equipment will fly to Fort Bragg in planes that will take off from the new runway. At the end of the second stage, the runway will be turned over to the Honduran Air Force.

A US military spokesperson explained that the objective of the Cabanas 86 maneuvers is to offer joint preparation to the respective armed forces together in deployment of special forces and airborne operations, while continuing to professionalize the Honduran Armed Forces. General Regalado Hernández, the new Honduran Armed Forces chief, admits that the maneuvers are also designed to "integrate the Mosquitia zone into our sovereignty" and, as President Azcona said, promote economic development of the almost unpopulated zone. At the same time they announced plans to construct a highway from Puerto Lempira to Durzuna.

The US ambassador to Honduras, John Ferch, declared that the "the Sandinista government should take note that the US is prepared to send troops and heavy equipment to Honduras in a matter of hours, as the necessity arises... We are capable of coming to the aid of Honduras, in remote zones if it’s necessary." Despite these declarations by Ferch and the proximity to the Nicaraguan border, General Regalado maintained that the maneuvers don’t represent a threat to the neighboring country because they won’t serve either to prepare for an invasion or to give aid to the contras. He said that Honduras' policy is "not to serve as a trampoline to invade any other country". At the same time he denied, as Honduran officials routinely do, that Honduras is participating in any way in the Nicaraguan conflict and said he had no knowledge of the supposed presence of contras in Honduran territory.

¬Cabanas 86¬ is not the only military maneuvers taking place in Honduras in 1986. Mid-April will see the greatest number of US soldiers in Honduras in the course of the simultaneous maneuvers that began with Ahaus Tara I in February of 1982. The Pentagon has announced the Vicente Tosta maneuvers beginning on April 13, commando operations, communications control of the Palmerola zone; and in Yoro the Terencio Sierra 86 maneuvers, begun in January, will continue. All the combined exercises derive from the economic cooperation and military assistance agreement between Honduras and the US, signed in 1954.

In Terencio Sierra 86,¬ 4,500 US National Guard Troops rotating every 15 days in groups of 400 to 450, with the support of 1,000 US troops of Task Force Bravo from Palmerola, are constructing 21 kilometers of highway between Jocó and its camp in Puentecita, a half hour from the departmental capital of Yoro. This stretch of highway connects with the one made last year during ¬Cabanas 85¬, from San Lorenzo, near Olanchito, to Jocón, permitting troops and equipment to move from Puerto Castilla, in Atlantida, to Yoro, and from there to other parts of the interior of the country.


US military advisers in Honduran society¬

Outside of the zones directly involved in the military maneuvers, the presence of US military personnel has not been much noticed at the level of daily life. Recently, however, the more permanent presence of the Bravo task force at Palmerola has caused bitter public debate throughout the country. For some time it has been rumored that some soldiers have taken part in sexual activities not only with prostitutes but also with some Comayagua youths. Now a Comayaguan civilian committee has denounced various problems of this sort, including the presence of venereal diseases in the mouth of a young boy, and several confirmed cases of AIDS among prostitutes. Although Hondurans haven’t been able to demonstrate their opinion about the virtual "occupation" of their country by foreign troops, they are now using their concern for their young people and have expressed their disagreement with the US military presence through communiqués, press conferences and street demonstrations in both Comayagua and Tegucigalpa. (It should be noted that they haven't shown the same concern for the young girls.)

Ambassador Ferch declared that he had no proof of the accusations, that none of it is true, that for months the soldiers have been subjected to strict controls, and that the accusations are putting the friendly relations between Honduras and the US in danger. Nevertheless, he failed to calm the uneasiness created by the news coming from Comayagua. The Catholic diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán publicly questioned the presence of US troops, and the president of the National Congress, Carlos Montoya, declared that it seemed to him that the US had already completed its mission to train the Honduran Armed Forces and in that case should withdraw from the country.

This storm of protest probably surprised the majority of US soldiers in Honduras, if they have been informed. At an individual level, the soldiers in general don’t understand Honduran reality; they live in a separate world, few even speak Spanish, and very few have taken an interest in getting to know Honduras "from the inside." For example, when General Walter López was obliged to resign as chief of the Armed Forces on February 1, several were not informed. Others found out only by reading The ¬Miami Herald, quoting the official version that claimed General López "was tired," which they believed given his heavy workload, etc. There was no further discussion among the soldiers at Palmerola about the division that might exist at the heart of the Honduran Armed Forces, how the change might affect their Honduran comrades in arms, what impact it might have on US policy, etc. Since the US soldiers are from a different type of army, they do not understand the power that the Honduran Army exercises in so many aspects of Honduran life.

Some have been informed about the corruption of one or another Honduran officer by contact in daily work, for example when a certain Captain García tried to keep the wood intended for the camp at San Lorenzo, Yoro, after a US official had promised it to local peasants, or when the same captain tried to raise the rent for the field where camp "Big Bear" is located in Puentecita, forcing the first group of US Guardsmen to stay the night in the road until he was convinced they wouldn’t pay him more. In general, however, US soldiers don’t have an inkling of the extent of corruption that could exist in the Honduran Army, above all at the highest levels where the potential for corruption is greater.

It is accepted that matters of analysis, intelligence, policy etc. are best left to the Pentagon and US Embassy in Tegucigalpa. Even the commander at Palmerola reports to both his military superiors in Washington and Ambassador John Ferch.

The soldiers don’t have a clear idea of why they are in Honduras either, at least not when they arrive. In the orientation given to recent arrivals to the Bravo task force in Palmerola, the commanding colonel explains that the US is at war in Central America, a war that it hopes to win—without arms. This makes it different from Vietnam, which many veterans have been reminded of as they get off the plane in Palmerola, a base that closely resembles so many of the US bases they saw in Vietnam, placed in a landscape that is also similar. The colonel says the war is against communism now at the US doorstep (18 hours by road, according to him, from the gate at Palmerola to the border of their country). He probably speaks of conquering the "hearts and minds" of the Honduran people.

Since they are unfamiliar with the situation, the US soldiers must be a little worried when they leave their bases. A few months ago they were prohibited from entering San Pedro Sula for several days because it was said that San Pedro was experiencing "communist activity." It was rumored that they were prohibited from entering Progresso for the same reason: "lots of communists." Several of the National Guardsmen working in Yoro were convinced that they were surrounded by "subversives" and "terrorists"; the camp at Puentecita is heavily patrolled.

Even before the events of Comayagua, US military leaders had recognized the bad image they had in various sectors of Honduras and had launched some quick public relations campaigns to improve it. At the end of 1985, they called a meeting of the "influential forces" in Yoro to explain to them the ends and the methods of the Terencio Sierra 86 maneuvers. They emphasized that the field used for camp Big Bear was correctly rented from the owner with contracted payments, etc. After Cabanas 86, there was a rumor in Olanchito that they had cheated the owner of the field at San Lorenzo. They emphasized that they were not going to repeat some of the errors of Cabanas 85, as a result of which they had left on bad terms with the population around Olanchito. (They promised road repairs and football fields and didn’not produce either, and they promised various benefits that the population never received. They interfered in the activities of the Honduran Armed forces, which are accustomed to combing the maneuver zones looking for "subversives" solely based on denunciations and rumors. US soldiers also helped P. Juan Donald, whom the Hondurans awkwardly imprisoned.) The whole meeting was very open, with real efforts to gain the public's support. They invited the local population to request community aid and in fact dug a new well for the hospital.

Nevertheless, because of their foreign idiosyncrasies, they offended the sensibilities of some of the citizens of Yoro. For example, they took photographs of everything that attracted their attention without asking anybody's permission. Everything that struck them as "primitive" attracted their interest. The owner of a pharmacy was angered when they entered time and again to take pictures of something that piqued their curiosity; be he was afraid to complain to them. It bothers humble people when their pictures are taken; they feel that their dignity is being taken. (This trigger-happy attitude with the camera contrasts with what happens if someone dares take their picture.)

Notable among the public relations efforts were the trips of the US military chaplain base at Palmerola, Lieut. Col. Joseph Anderson, a Benedictine Catholic Priest. Father Anderson, an affable, friendly, talkative type, visited local churches in his tours of the country, whether near already established bases and camps or in areas of future maneuvers. He contacted the local priest, seeking to be with his own. In some places, he arrived dressed in civilian clothes and left in military garb. Sometimes he offered to assist in masses in towns near the camps; sometimes he asked pastoral help—Masses (or Protestant services) by the parish priest. Recently Fr. Anderson met with the clergy from the diocese of Comayagua, and assured them that his fellow military men were only there to lend social services to the poor of Honduras. He invited all the clergy to take a trip in a Chinook cargo helicopter to Jocón for lunch with soldiers at the camp; several signed up for the trip, which was ostensibly to respond to a request from a priest in an isolated place in the Caribbean Coast to take 150 bags of cement by helicopter to several towns for constructing chapels. Military estimates put the cost of the helicopter use at US$15,000 an hour. Four days of "social service" could not come out to less than 10 hours, which amounts to an average of US$1,000 per bag of cement. The local priest purchased the cement. In concrete terms, Father Anderson represents some of the ambiguities of the US military presence in Honduras.

A permanent US military presence?

The US Congress has so far prohibited a permanent US military presence in Honduras. Among other restrictions, Congress has stipulated that no individual can remain in Honduras for more than six months. The only exception is the commander at Palmerola, who is permitted a one-year period of service. This restriction, however, is fictitious, because if a particular individual is deemed valuable by his superiors, he’s given four or five days vacation outside of the country and then brought back to Honduras for another six month stay.

This detail raises the larger issue about the US military presence: with the coming and going of individuals, the US Armed Forces have been in Honduras almost constantly since the first maneuvers in October 1981. The US presence has been organized around three main elements: maneuvers, intelligence from both fixed stations and reconnaissance flights, and the Bravo Task Force at Palmerola. Each aspect is accompanied by military constructions to the point where some observers believe that the US already has an infrastructure in Honduras sufficient to mobilize 55,000 troops. (See chart on constructions) The Congress, which has remained more or less firmly opposed to a permanent military presence in Central America, periodically makes noise about the situation but has never defined a coherent position. The Pentagon has successfully taken advantage of loopholes in the legal system, probably with advice from CIA experts with years of experience getting around congressional control, in order to get its way while maintaining the appearance of legality.

Although Reagan hasn’t succeeded in convincing Congress about his Central American policy in general, in the Honduras case he has convinced it to give him the space he considers necessary to carry out his plans and programs. The President is working with a Congress that has proved incapable, except on rare occasions, of independently assessing what’s really happening in Central America much less in Honduras, a Congress that is very afraid of communism and even more afraid of being accused of "losing" another part of Central America (as they lost China, Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Nicaragua, etc.) The same Congress has increased annual military aid requested for Honduras by more than 1,000% over all military aid to Honduras during the four years of the Carter Administration.

It is on the issue of military construction that Congress has decided to define its position. The Pentagon insists that the constructions are "temporary" for the maneuvers and nothing else, but a recently released study by Congress’ General Accounting Office (GAO) revealed that the Pentagon used funds for construction in violation of US laws and manipulated the accounting to legitimize its actions. Congress requires the Pentagon so seek explicit previous authorization for construction expenditures over $US200,000, but the Pentagon regularly draws on funds from other sources. Several Congressmen have visited US installations in Honduras; according to them, many barracks, highways and other constructions built for the maneuvers function perfectly well and are permanent.

After a long wait, the Defense Department finally presented Congress with a summary of some of its plans and pre-projects for military construction in Honduras for fiscal years 1986-1991. In this period, the Defense Department intends to spend US$73 million on construction alone, not including the cost of equipment, arms and munitions, personnel, etc. Included in the construction bill is US$30.27 million for Palmerola, of which US$23.67 million would be spent on improving its facilities and US$6.6 million to build and maintain facilities there for an army air unit dedicated to compiling intelligence gathered by remote pilotless vehicles (RPV), a project of the Honduran Chiefs of Staff together with the US. Another $US6.6 million would be spent on construction of a Honduran military training center to replace the abandoned CREM (Regional Military Training Center) to be made "available" for the use of Honduran soldiers and US$668,000 would be dedicated to expenses relating to Terencio Sierra 86 at the Puentecita camp. (It is important to emphasize that the summary only covers pre-project construction listed within the Pentagon budget; it does not include expenditures for military aid or even all the construction planned for Honduras).

According to the Pentagon report, Honduras has taken responsibility for the costs of construction projects like the Jocón-Puentecita highway. In the specific case of the heavy equipment from the Missouri National Guard, the Pentagon is paying the transportation, maintenance and lodging for equipment and personnel. This explains the Honduran press reports such as the one that stated that Honduras will only have to pay the cost of the fuel for the construction. Nevertheless, most of these expenses do not appear under "construction" in the Defense Department reports.

Despite the construction projects and the permanence of US troops in Honduras for several years—now projected at least until 1991—Defense Department Undersecretary William H. Taft IV wrote to Congress on February 3, 1986:

“The US does not have any military bases or other permanent installations in Honduras. We have no intention of establishing such bases. All US duties and activities in Honduras, excepting personnel assigned to posts as military attachés, embassy security and management of the military aid program, are transitory by nature and will continue to function while the situation in the region requires it and the Honduran government approves our presence.”

US Policy: Not Honduras but "la región"

In choosing the phrase "while the situation in ¬the region¬ requires it," Undersecretary Taft hit the nail on the head, because this is summarizes the Reagan Administration's policy towards Honduras. In this policy, Honduras is not seen as an independent and sovereign country, with its own history, its own needs and desires, but instead as a key piece in the larger mosaic that is Central America. Central America, in the Reagan Administration’s eyes, is not an isthmus of different countries, but a strategic part of an even larger mosaic that includes the US. In this picture, Central America appears as the "backyard."

The US President uses Honduras as a client state to detain the advance of what he considers "international communism" coming from the USSR via Cuba to install itself in Nicaragua, and to overthrow the "democratic and popular" government of El Salvador. Through the CREM, he has forced Honduras to serve as a training base for its old enemies, the Salvadoran military. He has thus tried to avoid the limitations imposed by Congress to limit the number of military advisers in El Salvador to 55. The Honduran military leaders finally opposed continuing the training of Salvadorans and the Pentagon had to close the CREM. The Honduran Armed Forces have, however, participated in joint operations with the Salvadorans along the common border and in the Salvadoran refugee camps in Honduras.

Honduras has also had to serve as a base for the provisioning, training and launching of attacks for the Nicaraguan contras, who are seeking, with Reagan's open support, to destroy the Sandinista government through the "low-intensity war." The national press, quoting The Washington Post¬, has reported that 60-70% of the 18,000 contras have been in Honduran territory since October 1985. Secretary of State George Shultz affirmed that recently the obstacles that Honduras had raised concerning delivery of materials to the contras have been overcome. On March 6, ¬La Tribunal¬ reported that the Honduran Minister, Carlos López Contreras, "assured yesterday that Honduras maintains its position of not lending its territory for the delivery of the US aid to the anti-Sandinistas rebels, denying with this [what had been said by]) Secretary of State George Shultz." But the same edition of the paper carried the news that Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger had told a House committee that many of the contras have their bases in Honduras. "These were the first public comments in which a high US official recognized Honduras' role in the guerrilla war that the anti-Sandinista 'contras' are waging against the government in Managua. Citing the difficulties imposed by Honduras on supplying the contras, Secretary Weinberger added, "We are correct in believing that the situation is changing." Nevertheless, shortly thereafter, the Honduran Minister, speaking before the OAS, did not see any need to mention the contras in his presentation on Honduran foreign policy. As usual, what is denied in Tegucigalpa is affirmed in Washington. The daily ¬El Heraldo¬ from March 14 says, "Administration sources indicate that after the inauguration of the new Honduran President, José Azcona, on January 27, the supply trips were renewed, apparently, after Tegucigalpa and Washington ¬concluded an agreement¬ under which the US would not officially publicize Honduras' role and would seek to increase US aid." If up until then US officials had been careful not to directly associate Honduras with the contras, Weinberger said, without beating around the bush, that the contras have their bases in Honduras and are supplied there.

Two consequences follow from recognition of this fact. The first is the chronic "disinformation and manipulation" to which the Honduran public has been subjected precisely when its own government criticizes and blames the neighboring countries for their lack of freedom, information and free expression. The other is the capacity to negotiate behind the backs of the people on a matter of national importance that doesn’t take into account their own best interests, much those of the poor majorities, the disenfranchised. The establishment of this accord and its continued application in the future assume that Honduras will pursue the policy of being "aircraft carriers for the US, promoting militarism and echoing the voice from the North in proposing a military, not a negotiated, solution to the Central American conflict." It would continue to participate in the "ambivalent US policy" of contradicting by its acts what it affirms with its words, so clearly manifested by President Reagan when he claimed to support Contadora while dialoguing with all the military and political opposition and at the same time requesting US$100 million to overthrow the Sandinista government. It’s not surprising then that the US ambassador in Tegucigalpa, John Ferch, declared that Honduran foreign policy was parallel to that of the US and that he felt very comfortable with it because it is pursuing the same objectives.

Weinberger's comments provoked a good deal of commentary in Honduras. Nevertheless, on the visit by Reagan’s special envoy Philip Habib, President Azcona went back to saying that "we have not signed any pact, either secret or open" with the US. At the same time, he described the statements by Shultz and Weinberger as "points of view" while he emphasized that US officials know well that "Honduras is an ally, a loyal friend of the US." When asked if his government supported the contras or not, Azcona limited himself to saying that "my government is a friend of the US and is going to continue to be one." He gave the impression that the "points of view" of Shultz and Weinberger did capture the meaning of the deep loyalty of the Honduran government, which is accepting the regional role Reagan has assigned it.

The residents along the border are complaining about the serious social and economic problems caused by the contras but the Honduran government and the Armed forces continue to officially deny their presence in Honduras. Neither the Honduran government nor the Armed Forces control the contras, a third army inside national territory. Neither have they succeeded in negotiating a new agreement with the US that includes US responsibility for disarming and relocating the contras in the event of their failure (now more evident every day). Recent events make it completely clear that Honduras is the victim of a US military policy that has nothing to do with Honduras per se, but which is the product of a simple hemispheric vision controlled at the highest levels of the Reagan administration.

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