José Azcona was President of Honduras at a time, in the 1980s, when the Central American country was caught up in Washington's campaign to roll back what it saw as the advance of Communism in the region. The US had more than 1,000 troops stationed in Honduras, where they provided training and support for the right-wing Nicaraguan rebels, known as the Contras (that is, counter-revolutionaries), operating against the neighbouring country's left-wing government.
But Azcona was also instrumental is bringing a negotiated peace settlement to a region torn by civil war, not only in Nicaragua, but also in El Salvador and Guatemala. As part of the Central American peace negotiations, he offered to expel the Contras from Honduran soil if the Nicaraguan government agreed to hold free elections. That eventually happened in 1990, and the ruling Sandinistas were soundly beaten by a US-backed conservative coalition, led by Violeta Chamorro.
José Azcona was born into a family of Spanish immigrants in La Ceiba, on the Caribbean coast, in 1927. He studied civil engineering at university in Mexico, founded a small construction business and joined the Liberals, one of the country's two traditional parties. He was elected to Congress in 1980, and was appointed Minister of Communications in the Liberal government of Roberto Suazo Córdova, the country's first civilian leader after a long period of military rule, in 1982. He resigned in the following year, and was prevailed upon, perhaps against his better judgement, to stand for President in the 1985 elections, as one of four rival Liberal candidates. He won, thanks to a new law that gave him the votes of all the Liberal factions.
In a country where corruption in public life is the norm, and office- holders are assumed to line their own pockets and those of their friends, Azcona was renowned as an honest politician. He showed no interest in the trappings of power, and said on one occasion that he could give it all up without regret, and without its making any difference to his life.
When his presidential term ended in 1990, he returned to managing his business, and lived modestly in the capital, Tegucigalpa. He put his professional experience to good use while he was President, by keeping a close eye on the construction of the sporting complex built for the 1990 Central American Games in Tegucigalpa. He was said to have paid such close attention to costs and specifications that he could account for every nut and bolt. It was the only way of making sure that the government was not robbed, he explained.
Azcona remained an active member of the Liberal Party until the end of his life. During the past few months he had been campaigning for the Liberal presidential candidate in elections scheduled for 27 November, and particularly for his son José, who is running for Congress.