Honduras Table of Contents


The executive branch in Honduras, headed by a president who is elected by a simple majority, has traditionally dominated the legislative and judicial branches of government. According to political scientist Mark B. Rosenberg, the entire Honduran government apparatus is dependent on the president, who defines or structures policy (with the exception of security policy, which remains in the military's realm) through legislation or policy decrees. However, Rosenberg also notes that in an environment of intense rivalry and animosity between the two major parties, in which the president is under pressure to reward his party's supporters, public policy initiatives often do not fare well, as the executive becomes bogged down with satisfying more pressing parochial needs. Political scientist James Morris points out that the executive-centered nature of the Honduran political system has endured whether the head of state has been an elected civilian politician or a general, and that the Honduran state's formal and informal center of authority is the executive.

According to the constitution, the president has responsibility for drawing up a national development plan, discussing it in the cabinet, submitting it to the National Congress for approval, directing it, and executing it. He or she directs the economic and financial policy of the state, including the supervision and control of banking institutions, insurance companies, and investment houses through the National Banking and Insurance Commission. The president has responsibility for prescribing feasible measures to promote the rapid execution of agrarian reform and the development of production and productivity in rural areas. With regard to education policy, the president is responsible for organizing, directing, and promoting education as well as for eradicating illiteracy and improving technical education. With regard to health policy, the president is charged with adopting measures for the promotion, recovery, and rehabilitation of the population's health, as well as for disease prevention. The president also has responsibility for directing and supporting economic and social integration, both national and international, aimed at improving living conditions for Hondurans. In addition, the president directs foreign policy and relations, and may conclude treaties and agreements with foreign nations. He or she appoints the heads of diplomatic and consular missions.

With regard to the legislative branch, the president participates in the enactment of laws by introducing bills in the National Congress through the cabinet ministers. The president has the power to sanction, veto, or promulgate and publish any laws approved by the National Congress. The president may convene the National Congress into special session, through a Permanent Committee of the National Congress, or may propose the continuation of the regular annual session. The president may send messages to the National Congress at any time and must deliver an annual message to the National Congress in person at the beginning of each regular legislative session. In addition, although the constitution gives the National Congress the power to elect numerous government officials (such as Supreme Court justices, the comptroller general, the attorney general, and the director of administrative probity), these selections are essentially made by the president and rubberstamped by the National Congress.

The constitution sets forth forty-five powers of the National Congress, the most important being the power to make, enact, interpret, and repeal laws. Legislative bills may be introduced in the National Congress by any deputy or the president (through the cabinet ministers). The Supreme Court of Justice and the TNE may also introduce bills within their jurisdiction. In practice, most legislation and policy initiatives are introduced by the executive branch, although there are some instances where legislation and initiatives emanate from the National Congress. A bill must be debated on three different days before being voted upon, with the exception of urgent cases as determined by a simple majority of the deputies present. If approved, the measure is sent to the executive branch for sanction and promulgation. In general, a law is considered compulsory after promulgation and after twenty days from being published in the official journal, Gaceta Judicial. If the president does not veto the bill within ten days, it is considered sanctioned and is to be promulgated by the president.

If the president vetoes a measure, he must return it to the National Congress within ten days explaining the grounds for disapproval. To approve the bill again, the National Congress must again debate it and then ratify it by a two-thirds majority vote, whereupon it is sent to the executive branch for immediate publication. However, if the president originally vetoed the bill on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, the bill cannot be debated in the National Congress until the Supreme Court renders its opinion on the measure within a timeframe specified by the National Congress. If an executive veto is not overridden by the National Congress, the bill may not be debated again in the same session of the National Congress.

If the National Congress approves a bill at the end of its session, and the president intends to veto it, the president must immediately notify the National Congress so that it can extend the session for ten days beyond when it receives the disapproved bill. If the president does not comply with this procedure, he must return the bill within the first eight days of the next session of the National Congress.

Certain acts and resolutions of the National Congress may not be vetoed by the president. Most significantly these include the budget law, amendments to the constitution, declarations regarding grounds for impeachment for high-ranking government officials, and decrees relating to the conduct of the executive branch.

With regard to security, the president is charged with maintaining peace and internal security of the nation and with repelling every attack or external aggressor. During a recess of the National Congress, the president may declare war and make peace, although the National Congress must be convened immediately. The president may restrict or suspend certain individual rights and guarantees with the concurrence of the cabinet for a period of forty-five days, a period that may be renewed. (Article 187 of the constitution spells out the procedure to be followed for the suspension of rights.) The president may deny or permit, after congressional authorization, the transit of foreign troops through Honduran territory. The president is also charged with monitoring the official behavior of public officials for the security and prestige of the Honduran government and state.

In theory, the president exercises command over the armed forces as the general commander and adopts necessary measures for the defense of the nation. The president confers military ranks for second lieutenant through captain based on the proposal of the commander in chief of the armed forces. Most importantly, the president is charged with ensuring that the army is apolitical, essentially professional, and obedient. In practice, however, the military operates autonomously. According to the view of Honduran political scientist Ernesto Paz Aguilar, the armed forces is the country's principal political force, exercising a tutelary role over the other institutions of government and constituting a de facto power that is not subordinate to civilian political power. Other observers, although acknowledging the military is a politically powerful institution, maintain that the military essentially confines its spheres of influence to national security and internal stability, although in recent years, they concede that the military has had an increasing role in economic activities.

Serving under the president are the ministers of the cabinet, who cooperate with the president in coordinating, directing, and supervising the organs and agencies of the executive branch under their jurisdiction. As required by Article 246 of the constitution, there are to be at least twelve departments of the cabinet covering the following portfolios: government and justice; the Office of the President; foreign affairs; economy and commerce; finance and public credit; national defense and public security; labor and social welfare; public health and social aid; public education; communications, public works, and transport; culture and tourism; and natural resources. In addition to these ministries, in the early 1990s, there was also another cabinet-level department, the Ministry of Planning, Coordination, and Budget. The National Congress may summon the cabinet ministers to answer questions relating to their portfolios. Within the first days of the installation of the National Congress, ministers must submit annually a report on the work done in their respective ministries. The president convokes and presides over the cabinet ministers in a body known as the Council of Ministers, which, according to the constitution, meets at the president's initiative to make decisions on any matters he or she considers of national importance and to consider such cases specified by law.

In addition to the various ministries, the president may create commissions, either permanent or temporary, made up of public officials or other representatives of Honduran sectors to undertake certain projects or programs mandated by the executive. The president may also name commissioners to coordinate the action of public entities and agencies of the state or to develop programs.

The Callejas (1990- ) government created several presidential commissions for certain projects or programs. In 1990 Callejas established and headed the Modernization of the State Commission, which included thirty representatives of governmental institutions, the four legally recognized political parties, business, and labor. The objective of the commission was to study and design national policies for reforming the functioning of the Honduran state, including reform of the legislature and judiciary, decentralization of the power of the executive branch in favor of the municipalities, and modernizing public administration.

In December 1992, the Callejas government appointed a head to the National Commission for the Protection of Human Rights (Comisión Nacional para la Protección de Derechos Humanos-- Conaprodeh), a new position established to protect the rights of persons who consider themselves victims of abuse or an unjust act by judicial or public administration.

In 1993 the Callejas government established two additional commissions, a Fiscal Intervention Commission to investigate governmental corruption that began with an inquiry into corruption at the Customs Directorate, and a high-level ad hoc Commission for Institutional Reform, headed by Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Andrés Rodríguez. The ad hoc commission, created in early March 1993, was established to formulate recommendations within thirty days for specific measures to improve the security forces, especially the National Directorate of Investigations (Directorio de Investigación Nacional--DIN), and to strengthen the judiciary and public prosecutor's office. The DNI was created because of growing public criticism of the DNI and military impunity. It had representatives from each branch of government, from the military, from each of the four 1993 presidential candidates, and from the mass media.

The Honduran civil service system regulates employment in the public sector, theoretically based on the principles of competence, efficiency, and honesty, according to the constitution. In practice, however, the system has been a source of political patronage, which some observers claim has led to a bloated bureaucracy. In 1990 there were an estimated 70,000 government employees, including employees of the decentralized institutions. Economic austerity measures introduced by the Callejas government reportedly led to the dismissal of thousands of employees, although some claim that thousands of other employees were hired because of political patronage. According to some observers, a fundamental problem of the Honduran civil service is its politicization, whereby much of the bureaucracy is replaced when the ruling party changes. Traditionally, in Honduras, political patronage has been a key characteristic of the two dominant political parties. According to political scientist Mark B. Rosenberg, a president once in office is under tremendous pressure to provide jobs, recommendations, and other rewards to his followers in exchange for their continued loyalty and support.

In addition to the various ministries, there are also numerous autonomous and semiautonomous state entities within the executive branch, which have increased in number over the years as the government has become more involved in the economic development process and the provision of basic services. These decentralized institutions vary in their composition, structure, and function, but include three basic types: public institutes, which are largely government-funded and perform social or collective services that are not usually provided by the private sector; public enterprises, which often have their own resource bases and are autonomous organs of the state; and mixed enterprises, which bring together the government and private sector, with the state retaining at least a 51 percent share of the enterprise. Among the best known decentralized agencies in Honduras are the National Autonomous University of Honduras (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras-- UNAH); the Central Bank of Honduras (Banco Central de Honduras); the National Agrarian Institute (Instituto Nacional Agrario--INA); the Honduran Banana Corporation (Corporación Hondureña de Bananas); the Honduran Forestry Development Corporation (Corporación Hondureña de Desarrollo Forestal--Cohdefor); the Honduran Coffee Institute (Corporación Hondureña deCafe); the Honduran Social Security Institute (Instituto Hondureño de Seguro Social--IHSS); the National Council of Social Welfare (Consejo Nacional de Bienestar Social); and the National Electric Energy Enterprise (Empresa Nacional de Energía Eléctrica).

Local Government
The Electoral Process
Political Parties
Two Traditionally Dominant Parties

Smaller Political Parties and Movements
Interest Groups
Business Organizations
Labor and Peasant Organizations
Popular Organizations
Domestic Human Rights Organizations
The Press
Civilian Democratic Rule

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress