The Nicaraguan Conflict

Honduras Table of Contents

President Suazo Córdova had foreshadowed the Honduran ambivalence toward the Contras in a July 1983 letter to President Reagan, in which Suazo Córdova stated that "our people are beginning to ask with greater vigor if it is convenient to our own interests to be so intimately linked to the interests of the United States if we receive so little in exchange." Although 1983 and 1985 public opinion polls had shown that a majority of Hondurans supported United States policy in Central America, there was still a growing uneasiness over the country's role as reluctant host to Nicaraguan rebel forces. At the height of the conflict with the Sandinista Popular Army (Ejercito Popular Sandinista--EPS), in the mid 1980s the Contra forces reportedly totaled between 12,000 and 17,000, depending on the source of the estimate. This force level rivaled that of the entire Honduran armed forces. This fact and the continued close ties between Honduras and the United States made it doubtful that the armed forces would expel the Nicaraguan rebels from Honduran territory by force. However, the prospect of an EPS victory over the Contras, which most observers considered inevitable, raised the disturbing prospect of a foreign armed force trapped on Honduran soil. Most Hondurans believed that, under such circumstances, the Nicaraguans would fail to assimilate well into the Honduran population and would resort to banditry in order to survive. Honduran politicians reflected little faith in the willingness of the United States to assist them should events take such a negative turn. Most believed that, following a Contra defeat, Washington would cut its losses and withdraw all support from the group.

Continued and sharply increased United States military aid to Honduras was the counterbalance to the prospect of United States withdrawal from the Nicaraguan conflict. For the years 1975-80, the total aid to Honduras had been US$16.3 million. From 1981-85, the total reached US$169 million. Meanwhile, the percentage of the military budget coming directly or indirectly from the United States increased from 7 percent in 1980 to 76 percent in 1985.

As the Nicaraguan conflict spread, Hondurans were left to ponder the merits of the deal the armed forces had brokered. On March 22, 1986, approximately 1,500 EPS ground troops crossed the Honduran border and engaged Contra forces near the hamlet of Las Vegas. The EPS withdrew into northern Nicaragua without making contact with Honduran forces. Honduran officials acknowledged the incursion publicly, but only after United States spokespersons had trumpeted the incident as proof of the Sandinistas' aggressive intentions toward their northern neighbor. Shortly thereafter, the United States Congress approved US$100 million in military aid to the Contra forces. Other EPS incursions into Honduran territory followed, notably in December 1986 and June 1987. How much human suffering passed in the frontier region without public notice by any government remained unknown. As in decades past, the spillover of the Nicaraguan conflict into more peaceful Honduras demonstrated the interrelatedness of events in all of the states of Central America.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress