The Reagan administration plans to provide more than $60 million in military assistance to the government of Honduras over the next two years to meet what White House officials see as a growing subversive threat from neighboring Nicaragua and leftist terrorists.
Administration officials outlined the aid plan--about a 700 percent increase over the amount provided over the last two years--after a White House meeting yesterday between President Reagan and Honduran President Roberto Suazo Cordova.
Suazo's visit was designed to help boost Reagan's $350 million economic assistance program for Caribbean Basin nations, which faces a crucial vote in a House committee today, and to demonstrate the growing U.S. commitment to the small Central American nation, which administration strategists see as a key U.S. partner in the region.
In a prepared statement after the meeting, Reagan cited a recent guerrilla attack against a Honduran electric power station.
"Faced with threats of this kind, the people of Honduras should be able to rely on their friends for help," he said. "And they can count us. The United States will provide assistance so that Hondurans can defend themselves from aggression."
A senior American official who refused to be identified told reporters that the administration hopes to win congressional approval for $21 million to upgrade three Honduran airfields for use by American warplanes as well as for $17 million in supplemental military aid to accompany the Caribbean Basin plan over the next two years.
This would be in addition to the $10.5 million already earmarked, most of it for arms sales, to Honduras this year, an amount the official said would probably be increased by about $14 million next year.
This total of more than $60 million in military aid is more than seven times the $8.3 million that the United States gave to the Honduran government over the last two years. While most of the programs had been announced previously, yesterday marked the first time that administration officials revealed the total military package it is asking for Honduras, which borders both leftist Nicaragua and civil war-torn El Salvador.
The official also said the United States has sent between 25 and 50 military advisers to Honduras. Previously, the State Department had reported that 21 advisers had been sent.
Critics have charged that by pouring in massive amounts of aid to the military, the United States could inadvertently tip the balance of power in Honduras, which returned to civilian democracy last January after nearly 20 years of military rule.
"It's a hell of a signal to be increasing military aid like this to a country that is struggling to remain a democracy," said George Rogers of Latin America, a Washington-based human rights group that is critical of U.S. policy.
The senior administration official defended the expenditures, asserting that Nicaragua was estimated to spend three times as much on defense as Honduras and had an army twice as large as its neighbor. He noted that the United States had also spent $48 million in economic assistance to Honduras this year in addition to the military aid, and that $35 million more was budgeted under the Caribbean Basin program.