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Honduras: Development of an Independent Military Identity, 1922-63
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Historical Background > Development of an Independent Military Identity, 1922-63


During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, rapid turnover in governments prevented a weak professional officer corp from consolidating its position and professionalizing military service. The country had few military schools; and the lack of resources, including the poor caliber of students, meant that a professional cadre of officers never solidified. A severe inequality in the conscription system also handicapped professionalization. All able-bodied males between the ages of twenty-one and thirty were legally required to serve, but numerous exemptions existed for members of the middle class. The result was that militia service came to be viewed as a form of lower-class servitude rather than as patriotic duty.

During the 1930s, the political climate stabilized under the PNH and its strongman, Tiburcio Carías Andino (president, 1932-49), who took advantage of foreign aid to create a military apparatus that developed long-term support for his government. The air corps, which had been established in 1922, was the first of the armed services to benefit from such aid. A United States Air Force colonel became the first commandant of the Military Aviation School founded in 1934, and United States personnel ran the school until the end of World War II. By 1942 United States-trained pilots were flying a fleet of twenty-two aircraft. The army's capabilities also improved with training in counterinsurgency, which proved helpful to Carías in defending his government from his political enemies.

During World War II, the United States military's mission expanded to include support for the professionalization of the army. In 1946 Honduran military officers began to receive advanced military training at the United States Army School of the Americas in the Panama Canal Zone, which nearly 3,000 of them attended until the school's closing in 1986. In 1946 the Basic Arms School was established, and separate schools for enlisted personnel and officers were formed shortly thereafter. In 1952 the Francisco Morazán Military Academy was established with aid from the United States; it graduated its first class of officers in 1956made it possible for the Hondurans to create the First Infantry Battalion. Shortly thereafter an additional infantry battalion was formed. What hitherto had been a conglomerate of local militia units began to take on the appearance of a modern national army.

These internal changes led to the emergence of an independent, politically conscious, and professionally trained cadre of Honduran military officers. In 1956, for the first time in Honduran history, the military, as an autonomous institution, intervened directly in civilian politics by overthrowing president Julio Lozano Díaz and establishing a government headed by a military junta. Seeking to preserve its new-found autonomy and status, the armed forces introduced provisions in the 1957 constitution to ensure that the armed services would not have to submit to the authority of civilian politicians. Among these provisions was a requirement that presidential orders to the military be transmitted through the commander in chief of the armed forces, who, moreover, was granted the right to disobey the president if his commands were perceived to violate the constitution. The new constitution also stripped the civilian government of its control over military promotions and assignments.

By the early 1960s, the Honduran military leadership was confident in its position, determined to protect its institutional autonomy, and willing to play a greater role in the national political arena. This they did in 1963 when air force general Oswaldo López Arellano seized power from civilian president Ramón Villeda Morales and governed until 1971. López Arellano seized power again in 1972 after a short civilian interlude, and the armed forces dominated the political scene for the remainder of the 1970s. From 1954 until 1981, each chief of the armed forces also served as president of the country before taking his retirement

Data as of December 1993

Last Updated: December 1993

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Honduras was first published in 1995. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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