LET'S HEAR IT for Honduras, which has just bested a terrorist challenge that could have put the government under. A dozen gunmen had seized scores of business leaders gathered for a meeting. All kinds of leftist slogans and grievances were voiced, but what the gang most wanted, it turned out, was the release of one Alejandro Montenegro. Mr. Montenegro is known as the most successful guerrilla leader in El Salvador; he had been apprehended in Honduras in August and, as it happened, deported before the raid to free him was launched.
As it happened further, the guerrillas got nothing for their pains except an eventual safe passage out of the country (to Cuba) and some publicity. No prisoners were released, and none of the people said to have "disappeared" at the hands of the Honduran military was produced; American Army advisers were not removed, and Honduras did not quit the "Central American Democratic Community."
Why did the siege end as well as it did, with no national goals sacrificed and no loss of life? Two Honduran clerics and a Venezuelan diplomat skillfully drew the guerrillas into nonstop talks for eight days. The Honduran civilian and military leaderships maintained a consensus on tactics. The public supported the authorities, to the point of stoning the place where the hostages were being held in order to keep the gunmen from sleeping. Perhaps people were angry to see Hondurans doing the Salvadoran guerrillas' dirty work for them.
For Honduras, nonetheless, scant respite is in store. The country lacks the gross feudal inequities that fuel violence elsewhere in Central America, but it is wretchedly poor. Though it has known only isolated terrorist acts so far, the trend is scary. The Sandinistas in Nicaragua use its territory for arms transit to El Salvador, and the Salvadoran guerrillas use it for sanctuary; the Sandinistas also sponsor a certain amount of local violence. The Reagan administration, meanwhile, has used the simplistic anti-communism of the Honduran military leadership to enlist the country in its pressure campaign against Nicaragua.
Honduras, a very frail society, is not built to stand the strains convulsing the region. It needs the relief an easing of tensions among its neighbors, Guatemala as well as Nicaragua and El Salvador, would surely bring.