The Honduran government has requested an unprecedented security pact and a doubling of economic aid in return for its key role as host to U.S. military deployment in Central America.
These are the main demands in two documents that the Honduran government wants to serve as the basis for negotiations with Washington. Such talks are aimed at redefining a relationship that during the past three years has become crucial to the Reagan administration's military preparations against Nicaragua, according to officials involved in the exchanges.
The demands reflect a feeling among leading Honduran Army officers that this close cooperation has left the country exposed politically and militarily without sufficient guarantees from the United States in case of trouble, Honduran sources explained. This attitude has spread since younger officers threw out general Gustavo Alvarez Martinez as armed forces commander March 31 and replaced him with Gen. Walter Lopez.
President Roberto Suazo Cordova's government asked the United States last July to name a special commission to conduct the negotiations, turning down a suggestion that U.S. Ambassasdor John Negroponte handle the talks here, Honduran sources reported. Since then, the Hondurans have named their own commission headed by Lopez and Foreign Minister Edgardo Paz Barnica.
The Honduran commission has sought a meeting for the end of this month with Secretary of State George P. Shultz and national security adviser Robert McFarlane in Washington, underlining the importance Honduras assigns to the negotiations. Although the commission and its mission have been announced here, knowledgeable sources said the Washington meetings so far have not been confirmed and no U.S. commission has been named.
Officials indicate that the hesitation in Washington demonstrates reluctance to deal with the Honduran demands, which they describe as unrealistic, and a hope that younger Army officers who have given rise to the reassessment will moderate their views or lose influence to more flexible officers.
The younger officers, mostly lieutenant colonels, are considered critical because they have gained broad powers since forcing Alvarez's departure and because the armed forces, rather than the elected government, traditionally decide security questions in Honduras.
Negroponte has told the Honduran government that the request for a security pact is particularly unlikely to succeed, reliable sources said. In the Americas, only Canada has such a commitment from the United States, in the context of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Granting such an agreement to Honduras would mark a major departure for the United States in Latin America. By singling out Honduras, U.S. officials say, a pact would devalue security commitments to other Latin American countries.
These security relations traditionally have been governed by the 1947 Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, known as the Rio Pact, which commits the United States to come to the defense of other signatories under specified conditions. A 1954 military assistance agreement between Honduras and the United States, which governs present arrangements, leaves the Rio Pact as the basis for any mutual defense obligation.
The Honduran demand for a separate security arrangement is based on an assessment that the regional pact is inadequate for risks Honduras is taking in allowing the United States to hold large maneuvers here and in harboring U.S.-backed anti-Sandinista guerrillas who are staging attacks in Nicaragua, according to a Honduran source involved in the redefinition.
The administration also has accentuated Honduras' role by transforming a Honduran airfield at Palmerola into a base for U.S. reconnaissance flights in Central America and building a regional radar surveillance station at Cerro la Mole near here. About 1,000 U.S. soldiers have remained on duty here.
Moreover, by stretching the definition of maneuvers, U.S. forces have built and improved a number of airstrips in the anticipation that Honduras would be a major staging area in the event of military action against Nicaragua. Although this country's other borders are not a high U.S. priority, Honduran officers also regard the presence of Salvadoran guerrillas in border hills as a potential for trouble with El Salvador.
"All this puts Honduras in a very dangerous situation," the Honduran source said. "We are very aware the Rio Pact did not work during our conflict with El Salvador in 1969 and it also fell by the wayside during the Malvinas conflict," or Falklands war, between Britain and Argentina in 1982.
The request for sharp increases in U.S. economic aid flows from a feeling in the armed forces that the best way to avoid internal subversion in the long run is to guarantee a decent living for the 3.2 million Hondurans, he added. For the next few years, this cannot be done without more U.S. aid, he declared.
As a result, the government has requested in the documents a total of $1.3 billion in economic aid over the next four years, according to a source familiar with the documents. This would mean an average of $325 million a year.
U.S. economic aid was $102.7 million last year and, including supplemental appropriations in August, $167.9 million this year. The administration has requested $138 million for 1985.
The Honduran government also has requested an increase in military aid. But, rather than seeking a major increase in dollar amounts, it has concentrated security considerations on the need for the special pact, according to Honduran and other sources.
A study by Honduran officers, with help from U.S. military advisers, has called for $100 million a year in U.S. military aid over four years. Military aid has risen from $9.1 million in 1981 to $37.3 million last year to $77.5 million this year, according to U.S. Embassy calculations.
Against a backdrop of these increases, diplomatic sources said, Reagan administration officials have let it be known here that another round of increases would be difficult. At the same time, they have emphasized willingness to discuss the Honduran demands, while putting off a decision to do so.
According to well-informed Honduran sources, relations among factions within the Honduran armed forces will be key in determining how strongly Honduras insists on its demands as a condition for further cooperation in U.S. military planning.
Despite leaks in Washington about impending new maneuvers, they pointed out, there still has been no accord between the United States and Honduras for such exercises tentatively scheduled next year.
The most concerted show of resolve on the issue so far came last September when Honduras barred entry of Salvadoran soldiers to attend courses at the Regional Military Training Center near Puerto Castilla on the Atlantic coast. The center was established in June last year to allow U.S. advisers to train Salvadoran soldiers without violating the administrtion's 66-man limit on the number of advisers in El Salvador itself.