Democracy Undone

The U.S. & the Honduran Mess

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere—a land, it has been said, where even the rich are poor. A casual observer might expect Honduras’s reputation for political tranquility, favorable location for trade, and valuable natural resources to generate some modest level of prosperity. Yet just the opposite happened in the twentieth century, as Honduras became, in the words of Alison Acker’s Honduras: The Making of a Banana Republic, “a beggar nation, a sieve for international aid, a country for rent.”

The United States did some of that renting three decades ago, when Central America was the Reagan administration’s top foreign-policy issue. Back then, revolutionary insurgencies in Central America, and especially the 1979 Sandinista overthrow of Nicaraguan president Somoza, turned Honduras into a training and staging area for U.S. military forces in the region. The country became known as “the Pentagon Republic” or “U.S.S. Honduras”—“a satellite,” wrote columnist Jack Anderson, “that could be trusted, bought and paid for by the United States.” By the end of the ’80s, however, the Sandinistas fell from power; peace accords were signed in Guatemala and El Salvador; and Honduras vanished from the U.S. radar. Reverting to its traditional peaceful, if desperately poor, status quo, the country rarely got a mention—never mind a front-page headline—in the...

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About the Author

Tom Quigley is a former policy advisor on Latin American, Asian, and Caribbean issues to the U.S. Catholic bishops.