Politics of Honduras

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Politics of Honduras takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Honduras is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in the National Congress of Honduras. The party system is dominated by the conservative National Party of Honduras and the Liberal Party of Honduras. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

The 1981 Constitution of Honduras provides for a fairly strong executive in some ways, but many powers conceded to the executive elsewhere, are designated duties of the unicameral National Congress. A judiciary is appointed by the National Congress.

That constitution delineates mechanisms for amending it, but it also declares eight articles immutable and unalterable and not subject to change, which include a guarantees of a republican form of government, and an explicit prohibition against presidential candidacy of anyone who has been president previously at any time or for any reason.

The constitution also provides for an independent organ to supervise and implement elections, the Superior Electoral Tribunal. Another organ similarly independent of the three main branches of government a Special Court for Resolution of Conflicts Between Branches of Government.


Executive branch

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President Juan Orlando Hernández National Party 27 January 2014

The president is both the chief of state and head of government and is elected by popular vote for a four-year term with no possibility of re-election.

Legislative branch

The National Congress of Honduras (Congreso Nacional) has 128 members (diputados), elected for a four-year term by proportional representation; congressional seats are assigned the parties' candidates on a departmental basis in proportion to the number of votes each party receives.

Judicial branch The judiciary includes a Supreme Court of Justice - the Supreme Court of Honduras, courts of appeal, and several courts of original jurisdiction such as labor, tax, and criminal courts. The judges of the Supreme Court of Justice or Corte Suprema de Justicia, are elected for seven-year terms by the National Congress.[1]

Administrative divisions

For administrative purposes, Honduras is divided into 18 departments, with departmental and municipal officials selected for four-year terms.

Political Parties

For other political parties, see List of political parties in Honduras. An overview on elections and election results is included in Elections in Honduras.

Honduras has five registered political parties:


Since about 1920 Honduras has had essentially a two-party system, with the Liberal Party and the National Party dominating electoral politics. The early 1980s were a relatively peaceful period compared to other countries in Central America that were buffeted by left-wing guerrillas, despite effors by the left. The Honduran government provided bases for U.S. backed counter-revolutionary armies operating in Nicaragua.

Between 1981 and 1984, there were several forced disappearances carried by the military, as it was proved before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights[2] and on the Report of the National Commissioner for the Protection of Human Rights in Honduras.[3] In 1984, armed-forces chief General Gustavo Alvarez was deposed amid anti-United States demonstrations in the capital, Tegucigalpa; this marked a decrease in counter-revolutionary activity, and the government continued to assist the United States' anti-Sandinista (Nicaragua) activities in return for economic aid.

In 1986, the Liberal Party's Jose Azcona del Hoyo was elected president. Allegations of human rights abuses, and summary executions by police—especially of street gangs—have diminished steadily in recent years up to the present (2009), while political violence has been a constant.

Rafael Callejas became president in 1990 and introduced neo-liberal economic reforms and austerity measures. He is credited with a major push to improve the country's transportation infrastructure. He implemented a policy of requiring cabinet member nominees to first pass appropriate examinations, unique among politicians anywhere.

In 1993, the Liberal Party's Carlos Reina was elected president, promising to reform the judicial system and limit the power of the armed forces. In April 1995 compulsory military service was abolished. The Liberal Party's Carlos Roberto Flores Facussé was elected in 1997, also promising to restructure the armed forces; in 1999 the armed forces were brought under civilian control.

In 2001, Ricardo Maduro was elected president on a platform that promised to stop the rampant inflation afflicting the nation, and to put a stop to the pandemic suffering of the brutal trademark violence in the streets of street gangs, most notably Salvatrucha-13 and the "Mara 18", and the assassination of his son during the campaign. At the time, the abuse of child-protection laws by gangs recruiting minors, and aggressive recruitment of members often under threat of violence, lent broad popular support for Maduro's enlistment of the armed forces for a greater role in fighting crime during this time, as the police were seen as overwhelmed.[4]

Gang violence

One of the major political issues in Honduras since about 1990 has been how to deal with the high level of violent crime associated with the maras (Spanish for gangs, predominantly of young people), and drug trafficking organizations involved in the transport of cocaine from South America to the United States. Although gangs existed in Tegucigalpa in the 1980s, the gang phenomenon exploded around 1990. The range of criminal activities that street gangs carry out is broad, varying between kidnapping and human trafficking to drug, auto and weapons smuggling, as well as domestic extortion.[5] A recent estimate composed by the U.S. FBI and their local counterparts in Central America placed the total number of gang members in Honduras at 36,000.[6]

The increase in gang membership was partly attributable to population movements between Honduras and the United States. During the 1980s, many Central Americans, including some Hondurans, fled to the U.S to avoid the violence of the civil wars and general political strife, and emigration continued for economic reasons after that. Other than civil wars, domestic issues endemic to Central America such as high rates of poverty and un-employment and lack of education make at-risk youth more vulnerable to join gangs. In Honduras, close to 30% of the population is youth ages 15–24.[7]

Many of those immigrants found their children forming and joining urban gangs in cities such as Los Angeles. This phenomenon began to have a local impact in Honduras around 1990 because gang members who completed prison sentences were subject to deportation to their home countries for felonies and immigration infractions.

These deportees brought proliferation of the two main gangs in Honduras, the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs.[8] In 2004, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration and Enforcement reported that Honduras received 2,345 total criminal deportations. However, it remains unclear whether the majority of these criminals were gang-affiliated or not.

Almost a third of Hondurans feel a sense of insecurity related to crime. The report listed as causes and risk factors, "Lack of opportunities and alternatives for youth and adolescents, family breakdown, movement of Hondurans to and from the United States, and abuse of drugs and alcohol, and presence of weapons".[8]

Hondurans would note, however, that the "departamento" (political division) with more weapons per person than anywhere else in the nation, Olancho, is the one area without any gang presence at all.

The report adds however, that the "overwhelming attention given to gang violence by the media and the government" is partly responsible for this. The link between the local media and gang violence is important because gang members often compete in carrying out brutal acts to see which crime receives the most coverage. It has been recently contended though that the media tends to exaggerate the gang problem, thus making Hondurans believe their communities less secure than they really are.[9] Such attention is inevitable, just as in other countries such as the United States and Europe, because of the extreme violence that accompanies the crimes perpetrated by these gangs. Another reason for the inevitable attention is that they most affect the lower-income population disproportionately, and almost all areas of public activities were affected.

The murder rate in 1999 was 154 murders per 100,000 population; around 2005 this had fallen to 49 per 100,000. (To put this in context, the death rate from all causes is roughly 1000 per 100,000 population.)[10] Most of the crime in Honduras takes place in the big cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. A survey by Mitch Seligson in 2004 found that 18% of the population thought public security and violence delinquency, crime, violence, drug trafficking, and gangs were the most serious problem facing the country.[11]

There is a great feeling of insecurity amongst the population about the chronically poor security situation in Honduras. The major problem is rooted in the gangs, also known as maras in Spanish. These include the Mara Salvatrucha and the Mara 18. The gangs are rooted in the poverty of Honduras, and in the ready availability of crack cocaine. Honduras has been not only a transit point for cocaine running between Colombia and the United States, a pattern broken substantially after the arrest and exile of the ex-president Mel Zelaya, but also has an internal market, creating all sorts of inner city urban problems. The gangs sell the crack, commit other crimes, and hire themselves out to the organised drug smugglers. Those engaged in international trafficking are better resourced than the state authorities combating them. Although gang members have been arrested for selling drugs at the street level, it is still unclear how much interaction they have with the larger drug cartels and their operations within Honduras. Not fully understanding this dynamic makes it difficult to discern the type of relationship they have with one another.[12]

Some would use this argument to justify increasing US military aid to Honduras to help fight the organised drug gangs, while others actually claim that Honduras would be better off legalizing drugs, thus avoiding military solutions to Honduran security problems. One of the most recent forms of U.S. aid that addresses the gang problem was the creation of the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). Originally seen as a part of the U.S.- Mexico Mérida Initiative, in 2010 the U.S. Congress separated funding for Central America totaling $83 million. Although some of the aid comes in the form of military hardware, there are components which focus on strengthening the receiving country's judicial system.[13]

President Ricardo Maduro, a former Central Bank of Honduras chairman, decided to stand for President on a security platform after his only son was murdered on 28 April 1999, an event that gained him considerable public support. During his tenure as President of the Central Bank of Honduras, a banking license was given to Banco de Producción. After leaving the Central Bank he became Chairman and majority stockholder of Banco de Producción, and the General Manager of the Central Bank, Ana Cristina Mejia de Pereira, became the General Manager of Banco de la Producción. He came into power in January 2002 with a wave of measures against gangs and delinquency, the most noticeable of which has been soldiers patrolling the streets with the police. Many gang members have been jailed for illicit association. This "Mano Duro" policy (name used to describe Central American leaders taking a hard stance against crime) led to the creation of a penal code in 2003 which made street gangs like MS-13 and M-18 illegal and established jail sentences up to 12 years for proven membership.[14]

Violent crime dipped noticeably under Maduro, to the relief of many citizens. Signs of their desperate situation outside prisons included their declaration of war against the government and the aggressive recruitment of younger children, as seen in incidents of arrests of children as young as seven and eight years old. These "mano duro" policies have significant downsides as well. For example, many of the youth are wrongly arrested for membership but are later become recruited to the gangs while in jail. Also, these gang round-ups have led to the overcrowding of the prison system. Regardless of these policy's initial sign of success, gangs learn to adapt and continue to carry out their activities.[15] Some reports say that gang leaders from El Salvador come into Honduras to help stop their decline.

Under President Zelaya's term, the government stated that it would attempt to create dialog with the gang members in order to sway them to renounce their violence and re-integrate into society. However, this program has relied mainly on private groups implementing the actual re-entry programs. Zelaya also created a specialized anti-gang unit within the police force which he used to coordinate patrols with the Honduran military. Although these patrols led to the arrests of 1,200 gang members, the rate of violence in Honduras has yet to subside.[16]

Their desperation resulted in a "declaration of war" against the government, and three major events over the last few years brought this tiny country to the attention of the world media: a massacre of 68 prisoners in the farm prison just outside La Ceiba on 5 March 2003, a fire in the prison at San Pedro Sula that killed 107 prisoners on 18 May 2004, and the massacre of 27 innocent men, women and children in San Pedro Sula, on 23 December 2004.

The massacre in the San Pedro Sula suburb of Chamelecón left 27 dead and 29 injured. The murderers left behind a message, claiming to come from the Cinchoneros, and railing against Maduro, Lobo, Álvarez and the death penalty. The Cinchoneros are believed to be defunct, however. The attackers promised to commit another massacre before the new year. Fortunately, one suspected assassin was detained very shortly afterwards in another part of San Pedro Sula, and further arrests have since been made. It was later revealed by the local police that the gunmen were members of the street gang Mara Salvatrucha, and the supposed mastermind of the attack, Ebner Anibal Rivera-Paz, was later arrested in Falfurrias,Texas.[17]

After Maduro left office. their resurgence was felt and their presence continued, although less than before, but now using the cover of anti-government demonstrations for their activities.

Ouster of President Zelaya on June 28, 2009

The President Manuel Zelaya, in 2008, initiated controversy in Honduras with the country's affiliation with the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas ALBA. There was further controversy when he refused to submit the government budget for Congressional approval.

In April and May 2009 Zelaya made clear pronouncements of his intention to organize a non binding poll on holding a referendum about convening a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution.[18][19]

The Honduran Supreme Court had upheld a lower court injunction against the 28 June poll,[20] and on 26 June while Zelaya ignored the injunction it issued a secret order for his detention.

On June 28 Honduran soldiers entered the presidential palace and arrested Zelaya,[21] preempting the poll.[22] They put him on a military airplane which flew him to Costa Rica.

Subsequently on June 28, the Honduran Congress, in an extraordinary session, voted to remove Zelaya from office and appoint his constitutional successor, Speaker of Congress Roberto Micheletti, in his place as interim President[23][24] for a term that ends on 27 January 2010.[25]

International reaction was universally negative with widespread condemnation of the events as a coup d'état.[26] Nearly no foreign government had recognized Micheletti as president.


Main article: Elections in Honduras

The PNH and PLH have ruled the country for decades. In the last years, Honduras has had five Liberal presidents: Roberto Suazo Córdova, José Azcona del Hoyo, Carlos Roberto Reina, Carlos Roberto Flores and Manuel Zelaya, and three Nationalists: Rafael Leonardo Callejas Romero Porfirio Lobo Sosa and Ricardo Maduro. The elections have been full of controversies, including questions about whether Azcona was born in Honduras or Spain, and whether Maduro should have been able to stand given he was born in Panama.

On February 20, 2005 the PNH and the PLH held their internal party elections (primaries) to decide who would represent these two parties in the forthcoming presidential elections in November. Porfirio Pepe Lobo became the PNH candidate. Manuel Zelaya became the Liberal Party candidate. Forty-five percent of the electorate voted in the primaries: 24% for the Liberals and 21% for the National Party. According to the Country Report quoted in the U.C. San Diego Library Latin American election results, "The low participation rate in the primaries . . . is a reflection of the lack of public faith in Honduras's political institutions and leaders."[27]

A Presidential and general election was held on November 27, 2005. Manuel Zelaya of the Liberal Party of Honduras (Partido Liberal de Honduras: PLH) won, with Porfirio Pepe Lobo of the National Party of Honduras (Partido Nacional de Honduras: PNH) coming in second. Voter turnout was 55% of the 3.9 million eligible. The PNH challenged the election results, and Lobo Sosa did not concede until December 7. Towards the end of December the government finally released the total ballot count, giving Zelaya the official victory. Zelaya was inaugurated as Honduras' new president on January 27, 2006.

 Summary of the 27 November 2005 Honduras presidential election results
Candidates and nominating parties Votes %
José Manuel Zelaya Rosales - Liberal Party of Honduras (Partido Liberal de Honduras ) 999,006 45.6%
Porfirio Lobo Sosa - National Party of Honduras (Partido Nacional de Honduras) 923,243 42.2%
Juan Ángel Almendares Bonilla - Democratic Unification Party (Unificación Democrática) 29,754 1.4%
Juan Ramón Martínez - Christian Democratic Party of Honduras (Partido Demócrata Cristiano de Honduras) 27,812 1.3%
Carlos Sosa Coello - Innovation and Unity Party (Partido Innovación y Unidad) 20,093 0.9%
Valid Votes Total 2,000,908 91.5%
Null 133,351 6.1%
Blank 55,139 2.5%
Total 2,190,398 100.0%
Registered voters 3,976,550 55.1%
Source: TSE Honduras government election website
 Summary of the 27 November 2005 National Congress of Honduras election results
Parties Seats
Liberal Party of Honduras (Partido Liberal de Honduras) 62
National Party of Honduras (Partido Nacional de Honduras) 55
Democratic Unification Party (Partido de Unificación Democrática) 5
Christian Democratic Party of Honduras (Partido Demócrata Cristiano de Honduras) 4
Innovation and Unity Party (Partido Innovación y Unidad) 2
Total votes: 1,833,710 (turnout 45.97 %) 128
Registered voters: 3,988,605
Source regarding number of votes IPU Parline

Zelaya presidency

On 20 December 2007, the National Congress, at the urging of the leaders of both of the dominant parties, passed a set of electoral reforms. The reforms were opposed by President Manuel Zelaya, who indicated that he would veto them, citing constitutional objections. The reforms would move the date of the presidential primaries ahead from February 2009 to November 2008, change the location of vote-counting from a central one to the individual municipalities, and radically increase public funding of political parties, from about US$3.2 million every election cycle to about US$52 million every election cycle.[28]

Political pressure groups

Some of the main political pressure groups are the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras or CODEH; Confederation of Honduran Workers or CTH; Coordinating Committee of Popular Organizations or CCOP; General Workers Confederation or CGT; Honduran Council of Private Enterprise (COHEP); National Association of Honduran Campesinos or ANACH; National Union of Campesinos or UNC; United Federation of Honduran Workers or FUTH

Guerrilla groups

International organization participation

See also


  1. Honduras Judiciary. Country Studies
  2. Velásquez Rodríguez Case, Judgment of July 29, 1988, Inter-Am Ct. H.R. (Ser. C) No. 4 (1988).
  3. The Preliminary Report on Disappearances of the National Commissioner for the Protection of Human Rights in Honduras, July 1, 1994.
  4. See a timeline of Honduran political history including events affecting same at "timeline: Honduras". See another from a leftist perspective, here: "Timeline: Honduras", BBC news...
  5. Seelke 2010
  6. 1 2 USAID, Central America and Mexico Gang Assessment, Annex 3: Honduras Profile, 2006; especially page 5.
  7. 1000 per 100,000 population is a very rough estimate based on 1.2% annual population growth and a life expectancy of 70 years. Although street gangs do play a significant role in this high rate, agonized crime, drug trafficking and social violence are other factors that contribute as well. Further complicating the sources of violence in Honduras is the concern about the local police's suspected role in extra-judicial killings of street children as a form of social cleansing in order to combat the growing gang numbers. This high murder rate is largely attributed to The USAID quote and murder rate are from USAID, Honduras Profile, op cit.
  8. Seligson survey cited in USAID, Honduras Profile, op cit.
  9. Seelke 2009
  10. Ribando 2007
  11. "Honduras Quagmire: An Interview with Zelaya". Time Inc. 2009-09-26. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
  12. Rosenberg, Mica (2009-06-28). "Army overthrows Honduras president in vote dispute". www.reuters.com. Reuters. Retrieved 2009-07-06.
  13. "Honduras Congress Communiqué explaining why ex President Zelaya was removed.". Retrieved 2009-07-09.
  14. "Honduran leader forced into exile", BBC, 28 June 2009; One hundred soldiers: "Honduran Leader's Populism is what Provoked Military Violence", Benjamin Dangl, Alternet, 1 July 2009. Ten guards: "Honduras supreme court 'ordered arm coup'" Telegraph, 28 June 2009.
  15. "Q&A: Crisis in Honduras". news.bbc.co.uk. BBC. Retrieved 2009-07-06.
  16. Longman, Jeré. The New York Times http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/m/roberto_micheletti/index.html. Retrieved 2010-05-22. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. The Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/28/AR2009062801569.html. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. Fernandez, Ana (29 June 2009). "Honduran president overthrown, new leader voted in". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  19. Romero, Simon (2009-06-28). "Rare Hemisphere Unity in Assailing Honduran Coup". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-29.
  20. UCSD Latin america election results
  21. Central America report (Guatemala), 18 January 2008, excerpted in University of California at San Diego libraries, Latin American elections statistics, retrieved 2009.
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