Country Listing

Honduras Table of Contents


Chapter 5. National Security


The fort of San Fernando de Omoa on the Caribbean coast was built by the Spanish in the eighteenth century.

THE 1982 CONSTITUTION of Honduras gives the armed forces a broad mandate to defend the national territory, maintain internal order, and guarantee the principles of free elections and regular presidential succession. This constitutional mandate ensures that the armed forces play a central role not only in national defense but also in politics. Although the government changed from military to civilian rule in 1982, the military remains a powerful institution in Honduran society, formally and informally providing guidance to civilian political leaders.

Honduras's location on the borders of El Salvador and Nicaragua, which were the scenes of hard-fought civil strife during the 1970s and 1980s, has made Honduras geostrategically important to the United States. In the 1980s, Honduras became a buffer area to help contain leftist guerrilla activity in El Salvador as well as a home base for United States-supported Contras (short for contrarevolucionarios--see Glossary) seeking to destabilize the Sandinista(see Glossary) government of Nicaragua. In addition, the United States poured millions of dollars into the country during the 1980s and early 1990s in order to increase the size and strengthen the capabilities of the Honduran armed forces and massively expand Honduras's military infrastructure, which also supported a United States military presence. Between 1983 and 1993, the United States, in conjunction with the Honduran armed forces, carried out almost continuous military maneuvers on Honduran soil. Honduras's geostrategic role in the Central American (see Glossary) crisis of the 1980s had a significant impact on the military, reinforcing the historical processes that had strengthened the institution and its key role in Honduran society.

The ending of the Cold War and the return of relative peace to Nicaragua and El Salvador have brought new pressures to bear on the Honduran armed forces. The armed forces have been forced to adjust to steep cutbacks in military assistance from abroad and reconcile themselves to the prospect of having to deactivate combat units and personnel as part of the government's military reduction effort. Additionally, they have had to face growing public demands for justice and an end to the military's role in human rights abuses. Although Honduran military leaders claim that a strong army is needed to protect the national territory and maintain internal order, in 1993 there were no perceivable external threats to Honduras, and signs of internal threats to the government were weak, sporadic, and isolated (see Smaller Political Parties and Movements , ch. 4).

In mid-1993 Honduras had 22,500 armed forces personnel organized into three services (army, air force, and navy) and the national police force. Unlike their counterparts in many other Latin American countries, the Honduran national police, called the Public Security Force (Fuerza de Seguridad Pública--Fusep), remain an integral part of the armed forces. The army, having 14,000 troops, is the largest service, followed by the police, with 5,500 personnel. Although the air force has only 1,800 members, it wields much influence because of its historical importance and battle success during the 1969 border war with El Salvador. The navy, which had grown rapidly during the 1970s and 1980s in response to an increased perception of threat to Honduran coastal waters, remains relatively small, with 1,200 members, 600 of whom are marine infantry.

Data as of December 1993