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HONDURAS: ARMED FORCES RESIST CAMPAIGN FOR CIVILIAN CONTROL DIRECTED BY NEW DEFENSE MINISTER.

Six months after the National Assembly passed legislation ending Armed Forces autonomy (see NotiCen, 1999-02-11), the officer corps remains in a state of confusion and unrest. Under the new civilian defense minister, the Armed Forces seem certain to lose even more ground as the administration of President Carlos Flores pressures them to present an image of efficiency and obedience to the international community.

The damage caused by Hurricane Mitch had devastating effects on the Honduran economy and forced Honduras and other countries hit by the storm to present a positive image to international lenders and donor countries (see NotiCen, 1999- 06-24). Less apparent but real has been the effect of the storm's devastation on the Honduran military.

Increasingly, Central American governments have come under pressure to justify large peacetime expenditures on their military establishments. Returning from the recent Stockholm meeting of the Consultative Group for the Reconstruction of Central America, Flores met with his military high command and asked them to help maintain the positive image Honduras gained abroad as a result of the recent civilianization of the Armed Forces. Honduras stands to receive US$3.9 billion in reconstruction aid from the Consultative Group over the next four years.

Defense Minister Edgardo Dumas Rodriguez, appointed in January as the first civilian authority with any real power over the military, said in mid-June that he, Flores, the chief of the joint-command staff (Estado Mayor Conjunto), Col.

Eugenio Euceda, and army commander Col. Rodolfo Interiano Portillo met to discuss ways to project the correct image.

Dumas said the president's clearest message to the officers was that Honduras' reputation abroad is in large part the result of the civilian control the government has imposed on the military and that military commanders must strive to protect that reputation.

Despite confident statements from Flores and Dumas about the irresistible momentum of civilian control, ample evidence suggests the military continues to resist its steady loss of power.

Civilian control has stirred resentments within the officer corp regarding promotions, pay, perquisites, and the loss of high-level posts to civilians in the Defense Ministry (see EcoCentral, 1998-10-08).

In May, the Honduran press reported that Cols. Interiano Portillo and Eugenio Romero were leading a group of disgruntled officers who, with support from sympathetic deputies in the National Assembly, were trying to change the law governing the military to place the chief of the Estado Mayor Conjunto in charge of the Armed Forces, cutting the president and defense minister out of the chain of command.

Romero admitted that he had met with deputies from both major parties seeking adoption of the plan, but denied the plan was aimed at regaining military autonomy.

In any case, Assembly secretary Pompilio Romero of the Partido Liberal said the congress would not approve the plan.

In June, Flores and Dumas laid down the law to Interiano Portillo and Romero. With Flores' support, Dumas is investigating the matter to send the message that "I am the one giving the orders."

Defense minister to reform military budget Dumas has also promised to restructure the Armed Forces budget to impose greater accountability and to weed out phantom soldiers whose pay goes into officers' pockets. He promised to shift funds to areas such as the payroll for troops, which has been starved in the past. "I am going to review it payroll by payroll, expense by expense. And I can give my assurances that not just anybody will be able to do whatever they please with these funds."

Reviewing his first months in office, Dumas told the Inter Press Service in June that he has had many clashes with the high command. "These months have not been easy, because many officers believed that my appointment was merely decorative and that the parties and sprees would go on as before," he said.

Ramon Custodio, president of the nongovernmental Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (CODEH), said some officers tried to have Dumas fired. "But every attempt has been aborted, because these hot-headed gentlemen do not understand that the Cold War is over."

Armed Forces business holdings may survive current reforms Dumas has also promised to review Armed Forces business dealings. For the past 27 years, the military has controlled 17 businesses through its Instituto de Prevision Militar (IPM). The IPM has holdings in banking, cement, arms, the media, insurance, construction, funeral parlors, cemeteries, and other areas. These businesses employ 3,000 workers and return US$9 million in taxes and services to the central government. The IPM is considering expansion into other commercial areas.

While Dumas may recommend that the military divest itself of these holdings and dissolve the IPM, such a move would require legislation that the Assembly is not in the mood to pass, said sociologist Matias Funes, a specialist on military affairs.

Funes said most profits from IPM investments go to officers and few benefits trickle down through the ranks.

A factor working against dissolution of the IPM may be its calming effect on the high command. As the military loses its privileges, key officers continue to receive profits from the military's private-sector operations. [Sources: El Nuevo Herald, 05/26/99; Inter Press Service, 06/14/99; El Tiempo (Honduras), 06/15/99; Notimex, 06/14/99, 06/25/99]
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Comment:HONDURAS: ARMED FORCES RESIST CAMPAIGN FOR CIVILIAN CONTROL DIRECTED BY NEW DEFENSE MINISTER.
Publication:NotiCen: Central American & Caribbean Affairs
Geographic Code:2HOND
Date:Jul 1, 1999
Words:878
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