Oswaldo Lopez Arellano (born 1921) was the dominant military officer in Honduras from 1957 to 1975. He twice served as the country's president.
As president of Honduras during most of 1963-1975, Oswaldo Lopez Arellano faced many problems that had been building in the country throughout the twentieth century. Honduras was largely a "banana republic," dominated by American companies, who exploited peasant labor. Honduran rulers, including Lopez Arellano, were challenged to industrialize and diversify the economy, redistribute agricultural land, and appease repressed workers.
Lopez Arellano was born June 30, 1921 in Danli, Honduras to Enrique Lopez and Carlota Arellano. He was educated at the American School in Tegucigalpa and learned to speak fluent English. In 1939, Lopez Arellano enlisted in the army. Later he entered the Honduran Air Force School, where his brother was an instructor. He graduated as a pilot. In 1942, Lopiz Arellano was sent to an Arizona air force base to study mechanical aviation. He remained there until 1945. Lopez Arellano married Gloria Figueroa. The couple had five children: Gloria Carolina, Oswaldo, Enrique, Leonel and Jose Luis. By 1956, Lopez Arellano had risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel and was the chief of security in his nation's air force.
In 1956, Lopez Arellano was one of the leaders of a military coup that ousted dictator Julio Lozano Diaz. The coup leaders sought to address many issues that had plagued Honduras for decades. Charles R. Burrows, former U.S. ambassador to Honduras, described these problems in Historic World Leaders: "an exclusivist political system; the need for a Labor Code and organization of the banana plantation working class; promotion of industrialization to diversify economic dependence on bananas; and the need for agrarian reform."
Lopez Arellano was appointed minister of defense in the new government. A year later, he was asked to fill a vacant seat on the governing board. When Ramon Villeda Morales was inaugurated president in 1957, Lopez Arellano continued as minister of defense. Villeda Morales attempted to address the country's social and economic problems. Although the military had supported Villeda Morales when he became president, on October 3, 1963, Lopez Arellano and his supporters overthrew the Villeda administration. Lopez Arellano served as head of the de facto military government for eight months while a new constitution was written. He then became president.
The government of Lopez Arellano was more authoritarian and conservative than that of his predecessor. He blocked agrarian reform and repressed workers, who had become unionized under the Villeda Morales government.
Tension between Honduras and neighboring El Salvador increased during the presidency of Lopez Arellano. In 1969, a short-lived war with El Salvador, which came to be known as the "soccer war," pointed out the weakness of the Honduran military. The Encyclopedia of Latin America calls the 1969 conflict the "first war to be caused by the population explosion." Densely populated El Salvador had been unsuccessful in providing opportunity for its growing population. Housing, health facilities and food production failed to keep pace with the burgeoning masses. Many Salvadorans crossed the border, sometimes illegally, into the more sparsely populated Honduras. The Salvadoran government encouraged this emigration. The Salvadorans competed with Hondurans for land and jobs, inhibiting the country's development.
Villeda Morales had taken action to restrict employment and other opportunities for foreigners. During Lopez Arellano's presidency, several thousand Salvadorans were repatriated. When a new round of evictions was announced just a few days before a crucial soccer match between the two countries, tensions mounted. Violence erupted following the first two soccer games and a few weeks later, the Salvadoran army invaded Honduras. El Salvador withdrew its troops two weeks later. Approximately 2,000 people, mostly Hondurans, were killed. After the conflict, Lopex Arellano withdrew his country from the Central American Common Market.
In 1971, Ramon Ernesto Cruz was elected president, although Lopez Arellano maintained control. In 1972, Lopez Arellano ousted Cruz and again assumed the presidency. But this time, his politics had changed. He began to implement many of the policies espoused by Villeda Morales ten years previously. Between 1972 and 1975, Lopez Arellano redistributed land to peasants and retired many senior army officers.
In 1974, Lopez Arellano imposed higher taxes on the United Fruit Company's banana exports. The money was to be used to further agrarian reform and other economic development projects. Within a year, Lopez Arellano was forced out of office. He was accused accepting a $1.25 million bribe from the United Fruit Company to lower the tax. Lopez Arellano later served as president of the national airline, Servicio Aereo de Honduras, S.A.
Biographical Dictionary of Latin American and Caribbean Political Leaders, edited by Robert J. Alexander, Greenwood Press, 1988.
Encyclopedia of Latin America, edited by Helen Delpar, McGraw-Hill, 1974.
Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, edited by Barbara A. Tenenbaum, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1996.
Historic World Leaders, edited by Anne Commire, Gale Research, 1994.
New York Times, October 4, 1963.