Tiburcio Carías Andino

Tiburcio Carías Andino (1876-1969) ruled Honduras as dictator (1932-1949) longer than any other president in his country's history. He was one of four Central American dictators of the 1930s and 1940s who comprised the socalled "Dictators' League" and, in collaboration with United States interests, brought stability and a degree of "modernization" to Honduras.

Tiburcio Carías Andino, was born in Tegucigalpa on March 15, 1876, the youngest son of Gen. Calixto Carías and Sara Andino de Carías. His father was active in the Liberal Party, which dominated Honduras through much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Tiburcio worked for that party as early as the election of 1891 in political campaigning and military action related to the political struggles of the times. Along with his political and military careers, Carías excelled in the classroom. He obtained his law degree from the Central University of Honduras in 1898, but later became a professor of mathematics at the National Institute and conducted night school classes for poor children and workers.

Large for a Central American (Carías was 6'2" tall), his physical stature complemented his talent for leadership. In 1903 he left the Liberal Party and joined in the founding of the Honduran National Party, essentially a successor to the 19th-century Conservative Party. Although he attained the rank of general for his role in the revolution of 1907, he was not primarily a military man, but rather an effective politician who made the military an important part of his machine. He was the most important leader of the National Party during the first half of the 20th century. He served in the Congress and as governor of several departments before becoming the National Party candidate for president in 1923. Although winning a plurality, he lacked the required majority. Political violence followed when the Congress failed to resolve the stalemate, and U.S. mediation ultimately established a compromise president. In 1928 Carías again ran, but lost to the Liberals by 12,000 votes. While his supporters called for revolt, Carías, even though he controlled the military, respected the Liberal victory, a move that won him widespread respect.

Honduran politics of the era cannot be separated from the power of the North American banana companies, which intervened directly in Honduran affairs and were responsible for much of the political violence of the 1920s. The Liberal Party had the support of the fiercely competitive Samuel Zemurray and his Cuyamel Fruit Company, while the giant United Fruit Company backed Carías and the National Party. United's support was finally rewarded in November of 1932 when Carías won a convincing victory over Angel Zúñiga Huetes. Carías took office in 1933 after putting down a revolt aimed at keeping him from taking office. Zemurray, however, who had sold Cuyamel to United, soon emerged as the dominant figure at United.

Although the Honduran constitution prohibited reelection, the Congress amended it to enable Carías to extend his tenure first to 1943 and later to 1949. Carías was a strong, personalist caudillo who brought stability and order to a country noted for instability and frequent revolution. When he finally stepped down in January 1949 he turned over power to his protégé and minister of war, Juan Manuel Gálvez Durón, following the first presidential election (1948) in the country since 1932.

Five years later Carías, then 79, unsuccessfully sought to return to the presidency, suffering a major defeat at the polls. An ensuing coup reduced his still great political clout. He continued to live in Honduras until his death on December 23, 1969.

Carías's dictatorship has been compared to those of his contemporaries in other Central American states—Jorge Ubico of Guatemala, Maximiliano Hernández Martínez of El Salvador, and Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua. Like them he had certain fascist characteristics and bought peace, order, and a measure of economic growth at the cost of civil liberties and the general welfare. There were many political prisoners and exiles; the press was shackled; and intellectuals and political activists found little opportunity for free expression. Angel Zúñiga kept up a steady propaganda campaign against Carías from exile in Mexico, and there was an occasional revolt attempted from within, but Carías's firm control of the military assured his continued rule. He cooperated closely with U.S. business and government interests, including support of the Allies in World War II. He also promoted notable expansion of road building and development of commercial aviation.

Unlike his "Dictators' League" counterparts in one important respect, Carías had abandoned the Liberal Party, which had become closely identified with economic policies that benefitted principally small oligarchies by the exploitation of native labor, often in collaboration with foreign capitalists. While Carías had close association with United Fruit and had himself come from a Liberal Party background, his National Party retained some of the 19th-century conservative philosophy which defended a curious alliance of the leading families of the elite with the masses. While all of the Central American dictatorships were repressive and often brutal, the Carías regime was somewhat more benign than the others, and he was the only one of them to step down gracefully from power. The overthrow of Hernández and Ubico by popular uprisings in 1944 probably were important in persuading Carías to leave the presidency in 1949, for he also began to face student and labor unrest after 1944. In reality, his National Party, which remains a force in Honduras today, represented a union of the 19th-century liberal and conservative elitist parties, allowing the Honduran Liberal Party of today to become more closely identified with middle-class interests. The heavy role of the military in modern Honduran politics is a major legacy of Carías's dictatorship.


Further Reading on Tiburcio Carías Andino

There is little specifically on Carías in English, but James A. Morris, Honduras, Caudillo Politics and Military Rulers (1984) reviews his regime in some detail. See also William H. Stokes, Honduras, An Area Study in Government (1950); James D. Rudolf, editor, Honduras, A Country Study (1984); and Franklin Parker, The Central American Republics (1964).