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Oswaldo López Arellano

(1921)


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(b. Danlí, Honduras, 30 June 1921; d Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 16 May 2010)

Honduran; Head of the Armed Forces 1958–75, President 1963–71, 1972–5 López Arellano entered the Honduran air force in 1939. In 1956 he played a key role in the coup d'état which removed the would-be dictator Julio Lozano Díaz. The coup constituted the first intervention of the armed forces as an institution in national political life. After 1956, López Arellano held the post of Defence Minister. In 1957 the military junta struck a deal with the Liberal Party whereby the former would permit elections in exchange for amendment of the constitution to grant autonomy to the armed forces. The power of military over civilian politicians subsequently increased significantly. In 1958 López Arellano became head of the armed forces, a position he maintained until 1975.

In 1963, López Arellano led an anti-Communist coup which overthrew the mildly reformist government of Ramón Villeda Morales. The aim of the coup was to prevent the ascension of an anti-military Liberal Party candidate to power. In 1965, his de facto rule was ‘legalized’ by a constituent assembly which also promoted him to the rank of general. During the period 1963–71 his government was both conservative and repressive, exiling political opponents and fomenting clientelism and corruption.

Following a brief interregnum of bipartisan civilian government in 1971–2, López Arellano led a further coup d'état on 4 December 1972. The subsequent 1972–5 administration adopted a populist tone and introduced a number of socio-economic reforms which aimed to modernize the country through active state intervention. Among the most controversial measures introduced was a programme of agrarian reform. However, this top-down reformism, fiercely opposed by more conservative political sectors, had lost its original impetus by 1975.

In April 1975, López Arellano was removed from power by the military high council in the wake of a bribery scandal known as ‘Bananagate’, whereby the US multinational United Fruit Co. had allegedly paid large sums to government officials to secure a reduction of the banana export tax. López Arellano subsequently became one of the country's most important businessmen, his interests extending to cattle-ranching, banking, and airlines.

Subjects: Politics.


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