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Members of the Honduran army's 7th battalion train in joint United States-Honduran exercises.
Courtesy Department of Defense, Still Media Records Center

The 1982 constitution and the Constituent Law of the Armed Forces, issued in 1975, form the legal framework within which the military operates. According to Article 272 of the constitution, the armed forces is "a national institution that is permanent, essentially professional, nonpolitical, obedient, and nondeliberative." Its mission is to "defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic, to maintain peace, public order and the integrity of the Constitution, the principle of free elections and regular presidential succession." Furthermore, the armed forces is directed to cooperate with the executive branch in developmental activities, including education, agrarian reform, extension of the transportation and communications infrastructure, health, and preservation of natural resources.

At the top of the military command hierarchy is the president of the republic, who is the titular head of the armed forces and is given the title of general commander (comandante general). According to Article 19 of the constituent law, the president is empowered to maintain the territorial integrity and inviolability of Honduras and to preserve internal and external security. However, these and other presidential powers are circumscribed by Article 278 of the constitution, which specifies that presidential orders given through the chief (jefe) of the armed forces (who is the top active-duty military officer) are to be obeyed by the military. Unlike earlier constitutions, the 1982 document contains no article explicitly reserving for the armed forces the right to disobey presidential orders. Lack of such a provision reflects growth in the number of "checks and balances" between military and civilian authorities that have been incorporated into existing legislation.

The president can declare war while the National Congress is not in session, but the National Congress must immediately be convened to confirm the action. The president can also permit foreign troops, ships, and aircraft to move through national territory, if congress has authorized such action in advance. The president has the power to send troops abroad in support of existing treaty commitments or other international agreements, but only with prior congressional authorization. Further provisions allow the president to call up the reserves in time of war or internal unrest and to organize and deploy military units on national territory when these actions are taken through the chief of the armed forces.

Honduran presidents have occasionally attempted to construct an independent base of power around control of the Presidential Honor Guard and to politically manipulate the promotion system. To curb the power of the president, the military has carefully circumscribed presidential power in both areas by law. The president names personnel to the honor guard, but only with the approval of the Secretary of State for National Defense and Public Security (as the Honduran minister of defense is formally known). Honor guard officers are selected from among active-duty military personnel, who thus remain under the direct control of the chief of the armed forces. Article 21 of the constituent law states that the honor guard "will consist of the number of officers and enlisted men strictly necessary for the accomplishment of its mission." Because this mission is largely ceremonial, the president is effectively prevented from expanding the unit. The Presidential Honor Guard was disbanded when the country returned to civilian rule in the early 1980s.

Article 279 of the constitution states that the chief of the armed forces must be a senior officer holding at least the rank of colonel or its equivalent, on active duty, and a native Honduran. The chief of the armed forces is chosen by congress from a list of three names proposed by Consuffaa, serves a five-year term, and can be removed from office by a two-thirds vote of congress for reasons such as permanent physical or mental incapacity. To prevent the concentration of political power in the hands of the president, the constitution specifies that no relative of the president to the fourth level of consanguinity can be chosen as chief of the armed forces.

Powers of the chief of the armed forces encompass the full range of organizational and administrative activities. The armed forces chief is empowered to "release the directives, instructions and orders that regulate the organization, functioning, and administration of the armed forces," prepare military plans, inspect military installations and troop units, and assign personnel to the various branches. Additionally, it is the armed forces chief who most directly controls, regulates, and manages institutional military relations with foreign governments. The chief decides which countries should supply military aid and training and to which countries officers and enlisted personnel will be sent for schooling. The armed forces chief also holds ultimate control over officer promotions, but rarely overturns a decision of the promotions board.

Although the powers of the chief of the armed forces are substantial, before April 1982 members of Consuffaa also wielded considerable power over the military. Its members include the armed forces chief (who serves as chairman), the minister of national defense and public security, the chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, the inspector general, commanders of the various service branches, and commanders of airbases and naval fleets. Consuffaa also includes commanders of combat and support units organized at the brigade level, or at the battalion level when independent; the directors of the various service schools; and the armed forces' auditor and paymaster general. Depending on the specific period of time and organizational structure of the armed forces, Consuffaa has had from twenty-five to forty members.

The chief of the armed forces convokes regular sessions of Consuffaa at least four times a year. In addition, extraordinary sessions are held if called for by the president of the republic, the armed forces chief, or by one-third of Consuffaa's members. Consuffaa establishes its own internal rules, which include the following provisions: that two-thirds of the members be present before a meeting be held, that decisions be reached by majority vote, that ties be broken by the armed forces chief, and that all decisions be binding.

Consuffaa evolved from a predecessor body called the Superior Defense Council, which was established in 1970 to give legitimacy to the position of General López Arellano and to deal with matters of military succession. Under rules in effect in the early 1980s, Consuffaa could propose a slate of three candidates to congress to fill the unexpired term of the chief of the armed forces should the position fall vacant. If congress is in recess, it is called into special session. However, Consuffaa is more than just a body with narrow, if important, procedural powers. Under both military and civilian governments, it has become the ultimate authority, determining broad matters of national policy. Consuffaa has the power to review and approve the national security budget in advance, to form commissions consisting of civilians and soldiers to study any national problem of interest to the armed forces, and to familiarize itself with national development plans.

Although not technically subordinate to the chief of the armed forces and Consuffaa, the Secretary of State for National Defense and Public Security occupies a position that responds to their actions. Appointed to office by the president, the Secretary of State for National Defense and Public Security countersigns all measures dealing with armed forces organization and personnel matters. He or she also serves as the channel through which are conveyed measures submitted by the military high command for discussion and approval by the executive branch and congress. Each year this secretary reports to congress on the current activities of the armed forces. The secretary of state heads the Ministry of National Defense and Public Security, which formally controls the Public Security Force (Fuerza de Seguridad Públíca--Fusep). Actual control of Fusep, however, is held by the chief and the General Staff of the Armed Forces. The General Staff of the Armed Forces is the body through which the chief of the armed forces plans, coordinates, and supervises organizational activities. Planning functions include the development of the strategic doctrine and tactics that the military will use in pursuit of national objectives. The general staff is also charged with incorporating these ideas into the programs of study of all military schools and with planning and supervising military exercises that reflect their character. Just as important as the general staff's planning function are the supervisory and coordinating functions that allow the chief of the armed forces to coordinate and control the activities of the various service branches. The General Staff of the Armed Forces is charged with seeing that the operational orders of the service branch chiefs are carried out and with compiling information concerning the activities and requirements of subordinate commands. The importance of the position held by the chief of the general staff is indicated by Article 281 of the constitution, which stipulates that the chief of the general staff will perform the duties of chief of the armed forces when the latter is temporarily absent from duty.

Data as of December 1993

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