TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Indications of a budding guerrilla movement in Honduras have raised questions about a possible leftist rebellion similar to El Salvador's and the one that brought the Sandinistas to power in Nicaragua.
Until last July, leftist activity appeared to be confined to small urban guerrilla cells. But at that time a group of 96 rebels entered Honduras from Nicaragua and began a insurgency campaign in the mountainous Olancho province.
The Honduran military claimed the group's tactics were similar to those of leftist rebels in neighboring El Salvador.
It is worried enough about the threat of insurgency for Chief of the Armed Forces Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez to announce a national security program in a speech on radio and televison last Tuesday.
He also warned Hondurans not to travel without identification and other documents, signaling a nationwide increase in security.
Included in the program are calls for citizens to watch for outbreaks of guerrilla activity and to call special telephone numbers if suspicious anti-government activities occur.
Honduran authorities last month presented a group of reported rebel deserters to journalists. The alleged rebels said they belonged to the communist Central American Workers Revolutionary Party.
They claimed they were armed and trained in Cuba and Nicaragua. The army took immediate action, launching its first ever counter-insurgency sweep in Olancho province where the rebels were reportedly based.
By Sept. 22, the army announced it had killed 38 of the 98-man column in Olancho province, including its leader -- a Honduran identified by the military as Jose Maria Reyes, or Commander Pablo Mendoza.
James Francis Carney, an American Jesuit priest traveling with the rebels, also died in the mountains from hunger and exhaustion, officials said.
The army said Carney, a Chicago native expelled by the Honduran government in 1979 over alleged political agitation among peasants, had been living in Olancho province among leftist rebels.
One intellectual, who asked to remain anonymous, said the 'Reyes Mata group was on an expeditionary mission, using the same methods that the Sandinista National Liberation Front used in Nicaragua in the 1960s.'
But, he added, 'A guerrilla movement cannot unfold in Honduras because it does not yet have a social infrastructure or logistic support.'
Honduras -- despite economic problems and 20 years of military rule which ended in 1981 with the election of doctor Roberto Suazo Cordova as President -- has enjoyed relative social tranquility.
'We are living in a state of expectancy,' said Marciel Euceda, director of the National Peasants Union. 'There are unjust conditions, but the motivation, or support from the people, is lacking.'