José Azcona Hoyo

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José Azcona Hoyo

José Azcona Hoyo (born 1927) was president of Honduras (1986-1990) and played an important role in the confrontation between the Contra and Sandinista forces.

José Azcona Hoyo was born in 1927. He graduated with a degree in civil engineering from the Honduran National Autonomous University and pursued additional studies in urban planning at the Technological Institute for Superior Studies in Monterrey, Mexico. Married and the father of two daughters, Azcona combined his engineering career with a growing interest in Liberal Party politics. From 1962 to 1974 he served as the director of the Liberal Action Front. In 1973 he assumed the positions of coordinator of liberal engineers in the Rodista Liberal Movement and general manager of the Honduran Federation of Housing Cooperatives. From 1975 to 1977 Azcona was a member of the Liberal Party's Central Executive Council, rising to the position of general secretary in 1982. In 1982-1983, during the presidency of Roberto Suazo Cordova, Azcona held cabinet rank as secretary of state of communications, public works, and transportation. In December of 1985 the longtime Liberal Party loyalist won the presidency of Honduras. When the new executive took office on January 27, 1986, it represented the first time in several generations that Honduras had witnessed the peaceful transfer of power from one elected civilian government to another.

The problems that President Azcona faced after his inauguration reflected a legacy of longstanding Honduran economic, social, and geo-political problems. Geography, for example, has not been kind to Honduras. Sharing frontiers with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua meant that Honduras became, often much against her will, involved in the domestic disputes of her neighbors, disputes which frequently tended to spill across the Honduran border. Indeed, economic and political refugees from surrounding states would provide President Azcona with major challenges during his four years in office.

Furthermore, Azcona had to contend with significant economic problems. Honduras, like many other Latin American nations, had a large foreign debt. Interest on that debt alone would drain off more than a quarter of Azcona's first budget. As one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere, Honduras, with an average per capita income of less than $600 and unemployment hovering around the 25 percent mark, could not afford to allocate such a segment of national expenditures to service external obligations. The fact that interest rates and commodity prices are determined on a global scale serves to restrict Honduran options even further given the fact that most of the nation's international exchange comes from the sale of tropical commodities in the international marketplace. When these foregoing phenomena are factored into Azcona's disputed election victory, the deep divisions within his own political party, and the ever present and politically active Honduran military establishment, it was perhaps not surprising that many informed observers felt that the President would be hard pressed to serve out his constitutional term.

Azcona's controversial electoral victory in 1985 was perhaps predictive of the difficult tenure he would have as president. In terms of presidential votes cast, Azcona's opponent, Rafael Leonardo Callejas, was the clear winner. A governmental electoral commission, however, had ruled that the presidency would go to the candidate of the party that won the most votes in races for both national and municipal offices. Because Azcona's Liberal Party gained the most overall votes, it was able to claim the presidency even though Callejas had outpolled Azcona by several hundred thousand votes in their head-to-head contest. Callejas' National Party was, to say the least, bitterly disappointed with the outcome of the elections, thus providing the basis for much partisan political activity over the course of Azcona's four-year term.

Azcona's administration was also troubled by rising inflation, a weak national currency, and the repeated insistence on the part of international lending agencies that the Honduran authorities adopt stringent austerity measures to stabilize the economy. In addition to a troubled economy, President Azcona was constantly challenged during his term by internal violence that various observers attributed to such sources as the drug trade, left-wing guerrillas, military and/or right-wing death squads, and internal schisms among the Contra forces located in Honduras. Indeed, of all the problems that Azcona had to face, the Contras represented the greatest challenge of them all.

During his four year term in office, José Azcona had the difficult, if not impossible, task of attempting to reconcile the policy objectives of the United States vis-a-vis the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua with his own role as a Honduran and as a Central American. The establishment of American military bases in Honduras and the existence of Contra camps along the Honduran-Nicaraguan frontier were elements in the Central American policy of the United States that Azcona had to tolerate. Infusions of American economic and military aid represented a payment of sorts for Azcona's support, but as the Nicaraguan crisis deepened and as a series of Central American peace initiatives gained momentum, the president found himself caught between two competing forces. It is a testimony to Azcona's political and diplomatic skills, as well as more than a little bit of luck, that he was able to lead his country through this difficult period of isthmian turmoil. Indeed, Azcona's greatest achievement might well have been his own political survival, for in January of 1990 he was able to turn executive power over to Rafael Callejas, his opponent in the 1985 election and the victor in the November 1989 presidential contest.

In 1997, the federal prosecutor's office in Tegucigalpa announced in a communique its intention to bring charges of kidnapping, torture, abuse of authority and violation of the constitution against Azcona and other officials. It was alleged that drug trafficker Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros was "spirited" out of the country, with the help of Azcona and others, in April of 1988, and taken by U.S. agents to America. He was sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy, possession and distribution of narcotics and kidnapping-related charges. He had been linked with the kidnapping, torture and killing of U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agent Enrique Camarena in Mexico in 1985.

Further Reading

José Azcona Hoyo is listed in the 1989 edition of The International Year Book and Statesmen's Who's Who. As a contemporary personality, information on Azcona can best be obtained in such periodical literature as TIME, Current History, Newsweek, The New Republic, and The New York Times.