Honduras Table of Contents

The Honduran constitution, the sixteenth since independence from Spain, entered into force on January 20, 1982. Just a week before, Honduras had ended ten years of military rule with the inauguration of civilian president Roberto Suazo Córdova. The constitution was completed on January 11, 1982, by a seventy-one-seat Constituent Assembly that had been elected on April 20, 1980, under the military junta of Policarpo Paz García. The Constituent Assembly was dominated by Honduras's two major political parties, the PLH, which held thirty-five seats, and the PNH, which held thirty-three seats. The small Innovation and Unity Party (Partido de Inovación y Unidad--Pinu) held the remaining three seats.

Honduran constitutions are generally held to have little bearing on Honduran political reality because they are considered aspirations or ideals rather than legal instruments of a working government. The constitution essentially provides for the separation of powers among the three branches of government, but in practice the executive branch generally dominates both the legislative and judicial branches of government. Moreover, according to the United States Department of State's human rights report for 1992, although basic human rights are protected in the constitution, in practice the government has been unable to assure that many violations are fully investigated, or that most of the perpetrators, either military or civilian, are brought to justice.

Of the nation's fifteen previous constitutions, several have marked significant milestones in the nation's political development. The first constitution, in 1825, which reflected strong Spanish influence, established three branches of government. The 1839 constitution, which emphasized the protection of individual rights, was the nation's first outside the framework of the United Provinces of Central America; Honduras had just declared independence from the federation in October 1838. In the 1865 constitution, the right of habeas corpus was constitutionally guaranteed for the first time. The 1880 constitution introduced many new features to the Honduran political system, including the principle of municipal autonomy and the state's role in promoting economic development. Separation of church and state was also an important feature, as previous constitutions had proclaimed Roman Catholicism as the state's official religion.

Promulgated under the presidency of Policarpo Bonilla Vásquez (1894-99), the 1894 constitution--the nation's ninth--was considered the most progressive in its time. It abolished the death penalty and elevated the status of laws covering the press, elections, and amparo, laws that granted protection to claims in litigation. Although many provisions of the 1894 constitution were ignored, the document served as a model for future constitutions. The 1924 constitution introduced new social and labor provisions and attempted to make the legislature a stronger institution vis-à-vis the executive branch. With the 1936 constitution, which was promulgated under the dictatorship of Tiburcio Carías Andino (1933-49), the powers of the executive were again reinforced, and the presidential and legislative terms of office were extended from four to six years. Some observers maintain that the 1936 constitution was amended on numerous occasions to serve the needs of the Cariato, as the dictatorship came to be known.

The 1957 constitution, promulgated under the presidency of Ramón Villeda Morales (1958-63), introduced a number of new features, including labor provisions (influenced by the growth of trade unionism after the banana strike of 1954) and the establishment of a body to regulate the electoral process. The 1965 constitution, the nation's fifteenth, was promulgated under the military rule of Colonel Osvaldo López Arellano (1963-71, 1972-73) and remained in force until 1982, through the brief civilian presidency of Ramón Ernesto Cruz (1971-72) and through ten more years of military rule.

The 1982 constitution provides for many of the governmental institutions and processes inherited from previous decades. Throughout the constitution, however, new or changed provisions help distinguish it from previous constitutions, and some analysts consider it the most advanced constitution in Honduran history. The preamble expresses faith in the restoration of the Central American union and emphasizes the rule of law as a means of achieving a just society.

The 1982 constitution consists of a preamble and 379 articles divided into eight titles that are further divided into forty-three chapters. The first seven titles cover substantive provisions delineating the rights of individuals and the organization and responsibilities of the Honduran state. The last title provides for the constitution's implementation and amendment. As of mid-1993, the National Congress had amended the 1982 constitution on seven occasions and interpreted specific provisions of the constitution on four occasions.

The organization of the Honduran state, national territory, and international treaties are covered in Title I of the constitution. As stated in Article 4, "The government is republican, democratic and representative" and "composed of three branches: legislative, executive and judicial, which are complementary, independent, and not subordinate to each other." In practice, however, the executive branch has dominated the other two branches of government. Article 2, which states that sovereignty originates in the people, also includes a provision new to the 1982 constitution that labels the supplanting of popular sovereignty and the usurping of power as "crimes of treason against the fatherland." This provision can be considered an added constitutional protection of representative democracy in a country in which the military has a history of usurping power from elected civilian governments.

Title II addresses nationality and citizenship, suffrage and political parties, and provides for an independent and autonomous National Elections Tribunal (Tribunal Nacional de Elecciones--TNE) to handle all matters relating to electoral acts and procedures. Provisions regarding nationality and citizenship are essentially the same as in the 1965 constitution, with one significant exception. In the 1965 document, Central Americans by birth were considered "native-born Hondurans" after one year of residence in Honduras and after completing certain legal procedures, but in the 1982 constitution (Article 24), Central Americans by birth who have resided in the country for one year are Hondurans by naturalization. With regard to the electoral system, Article 46 provides for election through proportional or majority representation.

Individual rights and guarantees for Honduras citizens are addressed in Title III. This section covers such matters as social, child, and labor rights; social security; and health, education, culture, and housing issues. Different from the 1965 constitution is the chapter devoted entirely to "rights of the child."

The rights of habeas corpus and amparo are provided for in Title IV, which also addresses the constitutional review of laws by the Supreme Court of Justice and cases when constitutional guarantees may be restricted or suspended.

Title V outlines the branches and offices of the government and their responsibilities, and spells out the procedure for the enactment, sanction, and promulgation of laws. It covers the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government; the Office of the Comptroller General and the Directorate of Administrative Probity, both of which are auxiliary but independent agencies of the legislative branch; the Office of the Attorney General, the legal representative of the Honduran state; the offices of the ministers of the cabinet, with no fewer than twelve ministries; the civil service; the departmental and municipal system of local government; and guidelines for the establishment of decentralized institutions of the Honduran state. Different from the 1965 constitution, the terms of legislators and the president are four years, instead of six years. Another new feature focuses on the development of local government throughout the country. Article 299 states that "economic and social development of the municipalities must form part of the national development program," whereas Article 302, in order to ensure the improvement and development of the municipalities, encourages citizens to form civic associations, federations, or confederations.

The chapter on the judiciary also contains several changes from the 1965 constitution. The changes, according to one analysis, appear to bring the administration of justice closer to the people. Article 303 declares that "the power to dispense justice emanates from the people and is administered free of charge on behalf of the state by independent justices and judges." The Supreme Court of Justice has nine principal justices and seven alternates, increased from the seven principals and five alternates provided in the 1965 document.

Title V also includes a chapter covering the armed forces, which consists of the "high command, army, air force, navy, public security force, and the agencies and units determined by the laws establishing them." Most provisions of this chapter are largely the same as in the 1965 and 1957 constitutions. As set forth in Article 272, the armed forces are to be an "essentially professional, apolitical, obedient, and nondeliberative national institution"; in practice, however, the Honduran military essentially has enjoyed autonomy vis-à-vis civilian authority since 1957. The president retains the title of general commander over the armed forces, as provided in Article 245 (16). Orders given by the president to the armed forces, through its commander in chief, must be obeyed and executed, as provided in Article 278. The armed forces, however, is under the direct command of the commander in chief of the armed forces (Article 277); and it is through him that the president performs his constitutional duty relating to the armed forces. According to Article 285, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Consejo Superior de las Fuerzas Armadas--Consuffaa) is the armed forces consultative organ. The Supreme Council is chaired by the commander in chief of the armed forces, who is elected by the National Congress for a term of three years. He is chosen from a list of three officers proposed by Consuffaa. In practice, the National Congress always approves (some observers would say rubberstamps) Consuffaa's first choice.

The nation's economic regime, covered in Title VI, "is based on the principles of efficiency in production and social justice in the distribution of wealth and national income, as well as on the harmonious coexistence of the factors of production." As provided in Article 329, the Honduran state is involved in the promotion of economic and social development, subject to appropriate planning. The title also includes provisions on currency and banking, agrarian reform (which is declared to be of public need and interest), the tax system, public wealth, and the national budget.

Title VII, with two chapters, outlines the process of amending the constitution and sets forth the principle of constitutional inviolability. The constitution may be amended by the National Congress after a two-thirds vote of all its members in two consecutive regular annual sessions. However, several constitutional provisions may not be amended. These consist of the amendment process itself, as well as provisions covering the form of government, national territory, and several articles covering the presidency, including term of office and prohibition from reelection.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress