Why US policy threatens Honduras

The Reagan administration's Central America policy has produced a strong and disruptive impact on Honduras's internal political structure, Honduran and foreign diplomatic observers say.

The White House has pushed Honduras to play a central role in an attempt to thwart Nicaragua's military and political activities and has stressed Honduran military preparedness. In doing so, it has greatly contributed to the increasing power of the Honduran military and to the related decrease in power of the civilian government, these sources say.

Observers emphasize that these results occurred swiftly and easily because Honduras does not have a tradition of democratic rule. Its history is of strong-man rule.

''The traditional parties . . . are becoming mere appendages of military power,'' says one prominent observer linked to the ruling Liberal Party.

Despite the military's increasing control of government, most observers do not foresee a military coup - at least for the moment. This is because the Army chief of staff, Gen. Gustavo Adolfo Alvarez Martinez, already has all the power he wants, and because the United States would embarrassed by a military takeover in Honduras, sources say.

However, there are two circumstances in which observers would foresee a coup:

1. If war breaks out between Honduras and El Salvador or between Honduras and Nicaragua.

2. If, as a result of an increased US military buildup and Honduran fears of being involved in a regional conflict, the Reagan and Honduran Liberal Party policy becomes so unpopular that the Liberals could lose the election scheduled for 1985. In that event,the Army might intervene in the electoral process, some observers speculate.

Some of this speculation is based on belief that General Alvarez does not have much confidence in Honduran President Roberto Suazo Cordova. According to one well-placed source, Alvarez doesn't trust Cordova, and thinks the civilian President is ''incompetent and lazy.'' If a real emergency should arise, the Army should take over, Alvarez is reported to believe.

Honduras's Army is gaining control or at least strong influence over larger sectors of the economy and blocking prospects for social change, many moderate Hondurans say. Thus US policies have strengthened the extreme right, says Jorge Arturo Reina, a leader of a dissident movement in the Liberal Party.

''A country where change is imperative has been given the task of stopping other countries from changing. After the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua, those in control wanted to make concessions and initiate change, but now they feel that this is no longer necessary,'' he says.

The nation's budget for land reform, education, and health care have been cut , sacrificed to military budget increases. Land reform has been virtually stalled, Mr. Reina says.

''This is happening,'' he says, ''in the country which, after Haiti, is the second most backward in Latin America - where 52 percent of the population is illiterate, and 76 percent of the children are malnourished, where 57 percent of all families live in extreme poverty, where 28 percent of the labor force is unemployed, and 50 percent underemployed.''

As US military and political presence here grows larger - recently doubling the number of US military personnel to the maximum authorized figure of 1,700 - and as Honduras appears to show growing subservience to the US, public unease is mounting, too.

Nationalism and a fear of being drawn into regional conflict appear to be the factors behind growing Honduran concern. Reina says, ''You cannot destabilize Nicaragua from Honduras without also destabilizing Honduras.''

One incident that shocked some Hondurans was the circulation and publication of parts of a document drafted by the Association for Honduras, an oligarchy- and military-dominated group of civic and professional organizations. The document, which was approved by the National Security Council, states that if left-wing expansion continues in the area, Honduras will only have two alternatives: (1) to become an associated state of the US, like Puerto Rico; or (2) to become a second ''South Korea,'' with US troops permanently stationed on Honduran soil.

''Honduras needs a foreign policy based on Honduran national interests, not on US national interests,'' says one moderate Honduran.

A key conservative politician claims that even Honduran Foreign Minister Edgardo Paz Barnica is disgruntled with the policy, but stays on ''because he likes the job.''

As US troop exercises in Honduras take on a permanent look - the recently ended seven-month Big Pine II exercises will reportedly be followed in June by another set of military exercises - observers predict growth of anti-US sentiment.

This sentiment, already present among the middle classes and intellectuals, is slowly beginning to grow among Honduras's poor, who are not politically sophisticated. It is based on the gradual perception that the greater the US presence, the greater threat of a war that nobody wants.

There is some unease, even in some upper-class and military circles, that the US might involve Honduras in foreign conflict and then withdraw. The example of Lebanon is on many people's minds. According to Gen. Paul F. Gorman, chief of the US Southern Command in Panama, the US trained 3,300 Honduran soldiers in 1983 and plans to train at least 25,000 this year.

Supporters of the Reagan administration's Central America policy claim that it is strengthening Honduran military forces and enabling them to fight off the ''communist'' aggression from Nicaragua. Despite reports of the growth of power of the Honduran military, these observers remain cheerful about the prospects of democracy in Honduras and stress the importance of the 1985 elections.

The underlying fear of most Hondurans, however, is that their country is vulnerable to unrest. US military sources estimate Nicaragua's Sandinista government is training a thousand Honduran guerrillas on Nicarguan soil.

Gautama Fonseca, a widely respected Honduran newspaper columnist, shares the views of many here when he says:

''What do they (the US) expect? If Honduras shelters anti-Nicaraguan guerrillas, Nicaragua is obviously going to respond in kind.''

Many Hondurans expect Salvadorean leftist guerrillas to win the war in that country. They wonder what will happen when Honduras is faced with hostile governments in both Nicaragua and El Salvador.

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