Hondurans say US policies erode their nation's political fabric

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

This country's social and political fabric is eroding as the United States attempts to turn Honduras into a regional bastion. This view of what is happening here is expressed by increasing numbers of politically moderate Hondurans.

They are more and more alarmed over both the Honduran Army's growing domination of this country and Honduras's increasing involvement in the Central American conflict.

They resent a US military presence which appears to get larger daily. They are upset by this nation's own growing militarization which is rapidly dimming hopes for what they see as desperately needed social change and development.

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Finally, they feel that with its present policies Honduras will face a Salvador-like civil war within a few years, including the prospect of a probable guerrilla victory.

''Many of Honduras's problems today come from the fact that, in Reagan administration policy, Honduras plays an important role,'' says one leading moderate here, Jorge Arturo Reina. ''A poor and underdeveloped country has been assigned the role of a fortress of the counter-revolution in the region. This has created an acute internal crisis.''

Jorge Arturo Reina is, along with his brother Carlos Roberto, the leader of the important dissident movement within the ruling Liberal Party (a party whose official head is Honduran President Roberto Suazo Cordova). Western diplomats see the politically prominent Reina brothers as being ideologically ''somewhere between the center and moderate Social Democrats.''

In the words of a prominent political leader of one of the main conservative opposition parties, ''by making anticommunism the center of its policies in Central America, President Reagan is polarizing forces in the region and especially in Honduras. Everything is being reduced to the grossly simplified criteria of communism or anticommunism.''

It is an oversimplification which, adds this Honduran, is having disastrous results for his country.

What worries many Hondurans most is the tremendous growth of military power which is undercutting President Suazo Cordova's tenuous civilian control. According to one very prominent observer, linked to the Liberal Party:

''In no time of the country's history has there been such absolute control by the military as now. During periods of direct military rule in the '60s and '70s the Army ran the government and set foreign policy as it does today, but it never had such profound control of the state apparatus, the economy, and mass organizations.''

Especially worrisome is the tremendous personal power of Army Chief of Staff, General Gustavo Adolfo Alvarez Martinez. Alvarez runs the National Security Council made up of the Honduran President and three ministers, on the one hand, and Alvarez and five other top military leaders, on the other. This council discusses all important national and foreign policy issues.

Many Hondurans stress that the Reagan administration policy and the influence of South American semi-fascist military regimes helped produce a type of military control far transcending traditional Honduran strong-man Army rule. Using the doctrine of anticommunism and national security, Alvarez has set up the Army as not only the defender of the country but the incarnation of Honduras's national essence.

Alvarez presides over the Association for Honduras (APROH), which is an oligarchy- and military-dominated umbrella grouping of civic organizations and professional associations. Over the past three years, APROH and other pro-military forces have gained control of the university, professional associations, teachers' colleges, and labor and peasant unions.

According to moderate observers, one of APROH's usual tactics is to displace the democratic leadership of these groups through phony charges of electoral fraud (backed up by a controlled judiciary). According to a prominent conservative politician, ''they use electoral manipulation, bribes, and the political influence of the government to corrupt the leadership. Those they can't corrupt, they intimidate. They arrest, they beat up, they deport.''

Alvarez also set up a Special Forces command for internal security. Human rights abuses are widespread. According to Dr. Ramon Custodio, head of the Honduran Human Rights Commission, 103 people have disappeared and 58 have been assassinated since 1980. One hundred and thirty five have been illegally arrested by the police (in addition to legal political arrests). Custodio says that almost all political prisoners are tortured.

''All this,'' says Custodio, ''in a country which the United States upholds as a model of democracy for the region.''

Gautama Fonseca is Honduras's best known and most respected newspaper columnist. He is ideologically a Social Democrat and was twice minister of labor. For Fonseca, ''the people who really rule in Honduras are General Alvarez , (John Dimitri) Negroponte (the American ambassador), and the fascist group APROH. Faced with General Alvarez's excesses, the President simply maintains silence.''

Fonseca says that in 1980 the military, which had ruled the country since the 1960s, was totally discredited because of corruption and inefficiency. The Liberal Party election victory was universally held as a return to civilian rule. Fonseca, and most other observers interviewed, feel that the Reagan administration policy contributed greatly to the reemergence of military dominance.

In a climate where, according to Jorge Eduardo Reina, ''the anti-Sandinista campaign has become the country's main raison d'etre,'' questions of military security have become paramount. This diverts attention from the problems of military corruption and the Army's proven inability to run the country.

Observers like Fonseca also stress that to understand the impact of US policies on Honduras, one must study Washington's Central American policies as a whole. US hard-line policies in Nicaragua, they say, greatly contributed to the radicalization of that revolution which in turn gave an impetus to the rebirth of military power here.

According to a prominent observer connected to the Liberal Party, the Army took its cue from Washington. It saw the anti-Sandinista campaign as a way of capturing large amounts of US military aid which would strengthen it as an institution. The Army has benefited also from the crucial intangible of US approval.

Next: Impact on Honduran development.

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