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Chapter 4. Government and Politics


The Mayan god Ik, Río Ulúa valley

IN LATE 1993, HONDURAS was again in the midst of an electoral campaign to elect a president, deputies to the National Congress, and municipal officials nationwide. The November 1993 elections were the third since the military turned the nation over to a democratically elected president in January 1982. Regular national elections, which have come to be celebrated in an almost holidaylike atmosphere, appear to be institutionalized. For most of this century, the Honduran political system has had two dominant traditional parties, the Liberal Party of Honduras (Partido Liberal de Honduras--PLH) and the National Party of Honduras (Partido Nacional de Honduras--PNH). In the 1980s, the PLH captured the presidency in the 1981 and 1985 elections, choosing Roberto Suazo Córdova and José Azcona Hoyo, respectively; in 1989, the PNH was victorious, with Rafael Leonardo Callejas Romero assuming the presidency.

The Honduran military has been a powerful force in domestic politics since the 1950s. From 1963 until 1971, and again from 1972 until 1982, the military essentially controlled the national government, often with support from the PNH. In the 1980s, after the country had returned to civilian rule, the military continued to be a potent political force, particularly during the Suazo Córdova government (1981-85). During that administration, the military allowed a United States military presence and hosted members of the Nicaraguan Resistance (more commonly known as the Contras, short for contrarevolucionarios--Spanish for counterrevolutionaries; see Glossary), a group attempting to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. In the early 1990s, the Honduran military continued to operate as an autonomous institution with increasing involvement in economic activities.

Within the civilian government, the executive branch of government has traditionally dominated the legislative and judicial branches. The Honduran judiciary has been widely criticized for politicization and for having unqualified judges among the lower court officials. The justice system for the most part has not held military or civilian elites accountable for their actions. A significant departure from this record was the July 1993 conviction of two military officers for the 1991 murder of an eighteen-year- old high school student, Riccy Mabel Martínez. The case galvanized Honduran public opinion against the military's immunity from prosecution. The political system also suffers from the endemic corruption found within its ranks; bribery is an almost institutionalized practice.

In the early 1990s, a myriad of interest groups influenced the Honduran political process. Despite the nation's political tradition of a strong executive branch, an elaborate network of interest groups and political organizations has thrived and at times has helped settle conflicts. The Honduran labor movement has traditionally been one of the strongest in Central America. The nation's organized peasant movement helped bring about limited agrarian reform in the early 1960s and 1970s. Nevertheless, some critics maintain that in the early 1990s the government increasingly intervened in the affairs of labor unions and peasant organizations, including through the introduction of "parallel unions," government sponsored unions that had little worker support. In the 1980s and 1990s, a variety of special interest organizations and associations were active in Honduras, including student and women's groups, human rights organizations, and environmental groups.

In the foreign policy arena, Honduras in the early 1990s was just emerging from a decade of regional turbulence marked by civil conflicts in neighboring El Salvador and Nicaragua. Honduras had become a linchpin for United States policy toward Central America in the 1980s. It hosted the United States-supported anti-Sandinista Contra force as well as a 1,100-troop United States military force at Palmerola Air Base (renamed the Enrique Cano Soto Air Base in 1988). Military exercises involving thousands of United States troops and National Guardsmen were conducted in the country, many involving roadbuilding projects; and Honduras received almost US$1.6 billion in United States assistance during the decade. In the early 1990s, however, with the end to the Contra conflict in Nicaragua and a peace accord in El Salvador, Honduras's relations with the United States changed considerably. Aid levels fell dramatically, and military assistance slowed to a trickle. The United States became more willing to criticize Honduras for its human rights record and urged Honduras to cut back its military spending. As in the past, however, the United States remained Honduras's most important trading partner and its most important source of foreign investment.

Amidst the waning of civil conflict in the region in the early 1990s, Honduras and the other Central American states turned their efforts to regional integration, particularly economic integration. In 1990 the Central American presidents signed a Central American Economic Action Plan (Plan de Acción Económica de Centroamérica-- Paeca), which included economic integration commitments and guidelines. In 1993 they established a regional integration governing body, the Central American Integration System (Sistema de Integración Centroamericana--Sica). As a first step toward political integration, the Central American Parliament (Parlamento Centroamericano--Parlacen) was inaugurated in 1991; however, as of 1993 only Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador--the so-called northern triangle states--had elected representatives to that body. In September 1992, Honduras's long-time border conflict with El Salvador was resolved when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) awarded Honduras approximately two-thirds of the disputed territory. Both nations agreed to accept the ruling, which was viewed by many as a victory for Honduras.

Data as of December 1993

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