Country Listing

Honduras Table of Contents


The Army as Political Instrument, 1838-1922

For the better part of a century, the army operated within a chaotic political context dominated by warring factions that sought control of the government largely for personal gain and wealth. The country lacked strong church and governmental institutions, and the struggle for control of the central government was conducted largely by factions of various ideological hues, which formed loyalties to individual caudillos. By the late nineteenth century, these factions had coalesced loosely around the two newly formed political parties, the Liberal Party of Honduras (Partido Liberal de Honduras--PLH) and the National Party of Honduras (Partido Nacional de Honduras--PNH).

During this period, although men in uniform performed largely political functions, the military lacked institutional authority and identity. Caudillos who sought political power would form guerrilla bands composed of relatives and friends and establish alliances with other ambitious politicians. If the caudillo succeeded in seizing the capital city of Tegucigalpa, his new government would formalize his military appointments. The newly appointed generals and colonels could then return to the provinces where they would assume high-level political positions, such as governorships. Because they retained their military titles, the distinction between political and military "command structure" at the regional level became blurred.

During the early nineteenth century, the Honduran military performed both security and political functions in the countryside. Each of the seventeen departments into which the nation was divided contained a comandancia (command headquarters). A large number of military detachments also existed at the subdepartmental level. In 1914, for example, Honduras had eighty local comandancias but 183 subcomandancias de pueblo (town subcommand headquarters) or subcomandancias de aldea (village subcommand headquarters). Whereas the instability of the central government no doubt contributed to considerable turnover at the local level, a continuing local military presence was necessary to keep the peace.

Just as important, local military units performed critical political functions, which are best demonstrated by the historical role of the militia during national elections. As election time approached, governors and their subordinates, the officerpoliticians , would be called back to active duty, and they in turn would call up the militia--made up of able-bodied males between the ages of twenty-one and thirty, who were given instructions on how to vote. Failure to comply with these instructions constituted a serious breach of military discipline. Such practices by the military persisted well into the twentieth century.

Data as of December 1993