The Honduran Congress voted Wednesday to dismiss four Supreme Court Justices accused of blocking police reforms sought by Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, escalating a standoff between the country’s judicial, legislative and executive branches.
On Tuesday, Congress voted to approve the president’s reforms, which would require police applicants to submit to polygraph tests and toxicology exams and provide their financial and psychological records before joining Honduras’ police force. The reforms are intended to purge the Honduran police of corrupt officers, and along with other measures, would be put to a public referendum before they become law.
Congress passed the reforms on Tuesday despite the fact that they had already been blocked by the courts. In late November, four justices on the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the police reform measure was unconstitutional in a 4-1 vote. Since the decision was not unanimous, the full court must ratify the constitutional chamber’s ruling, but it has not yet done so.
In comments on Saturday, Lobo accused the dissenting judges of being “against police clean-up efforts” and said they were acting “in collusion to subvert the institutions” with Honduras’ business elite.
A legislative commission that investigated the judges’ ruling determined that they had broken established rules in the decision, and, on Wednesday just a day after approving the stalled reforms, Congress voted 97-31 to expel the four dissenting justices and name their replacements. As the voting stretched into the early morning Wednesday, police and soldiers surrounded the legislative building.
Later on, Honduran Attorney General Luis Rubí fiercely criticized the dismissal of the four judges and said that he, in turn, would look into whether the legislators could be prosecuted for violating the constitution and for violating the separation of powers.
The judges themselves released a statement on Wednesday that called their dismissal “illegitimate, illegal and unjust.” It is not yet clear whether they will make way for the four new judges that Congress chose to replace them.
What does AQ Online expect to be the anticipated headline grabbers for the week of March 5-9, 2012? The top-five stories include: Joe Biden’s Latin America tour; FIFA’s criticism of Brazil; Hugo Chávez’ health recovery; new presidential polls in Mexico; and the UN making further preparations for Rio+20.
1) Biden in Mexico and Honduras: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived yesterday in Mexico, where he holds meetings today in Mexico City with Mexican President Felipe Calderón and the three presidential candidates for the July 2012 election. According to Tony Blinken, national security advisor to the vice president, Biden and Calderón will discuss a wide range of bilateral issues “in the spirit of equal partnership, mutual respect and shared responsibility.” Tomorrow morning, Biden travels to Honduras to meet privately with President Porfirio Lobo, and then will have lunch with the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama. Much of Biden’s visit will center around the violence surrounding narcotics trafficking through Central America.
Although Blinken said that the meeting in Honduras “provides an opportunity to reaffirm the United States' strong support for the tremendous leadership President Lobo has displayed in advancing national reconciliation and democratic and constitutional order,” AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini posits, “almost three years after the coup, Honduras has deteriorated politically and socially—and the region has largely walked away from it.”
2) Brazil-FIFA Row: After FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke criticized on Friday Brazil’s lack of preparedness for the 2014 World Cup, specifically its lack of infrastructure and delayed construction timetables, Brazilian Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo has refused to communicate directly with Valcke. Rebelo called Valcke’s remarks—specifically that Brazil needs a “kick in the backside”—offensive and unacceptable. Expect this contention to further increase as the June 2014 kickoff date approaches, but more recently as Valcke lands in Brazil in the coming days.
3) Chávez in Recovery: The revelation by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that the lesion he had surgically removed in Cuba was indeed a malignant tumor has fueled speculation about his long-term health outlook before and after the October 7 presidential contest against Henrique Capriles Radonski. According to Christopher Sabatini, “unfortunately, the president has refused to be transparent about his condition in the past” and that his admission of the malignant tumor “still raises a number of questions including the prognosis for his recovery, his treatment and some alternative plan should his condition take a turn for the worse.”
AQ Online today launches its weekly Monday Memo that looks ahead to what it expects to be the top headline grabbers for the week. The top anticipated stories for the week of February 27 include: Hugo Chávez’ surgery; U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s current five-country Latin America tour; U.S. Vice President’s forthcoming visit to Mexico and Honduras; the search for a new prime minister in Haiti; and FARC suspending kidnappings in Colombia.
Chávez' Cancer: As the Venezuelan president heads to Cuba for a second surgical operation, the rumor mill on his real health status will continue as will the discussion about what its implications will be for Venezuela's October presidential election. Christopher Sabatini, AQ editor-in-chief, observes: “While it may translate into sympathy support, President Chávez' lack of transparency about his illness and treatment will likely raise fears among some Venezuelans about their future and a potential successor—irrespective of what the president says upon his release.”
Napolitano on Latin America Tour: U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano begins a five-country tour today through Wednesday in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama. According to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) press release, Secretary Napolitano will be accompanied by Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection David Aguilar and DHS Assistant Secretary for International Affairs Alan Bersin. Her visit is likely intended to reiterate support for security measures like the Central America Regional Security Initiative and reinforce counter-trafficking efforts to interdict narcotics through key transit points.
Biden to Mexico and Honduras: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will visit Mexico and Honduras on March 4-6, meeting with both Presidents Calderón and Lobo. Why is the Vice President going to Honduras? While Mexico remains an important economic, diplomatic and strategic partner in the war on drugs, the trip to Honduras is a mystery. Since the 2009 coup, Honduras has become the murder capital of Central America. Two weeks ago, a fire at a Honduran prison left 350 inmates dead—an incident that Human Rights Watch blamed on poor and overcrowded conditions in Honduran prisons.
Haiti Prime Minister Watch: The abrupt resignation of Haitian Prime Minister Gary Conille on Friday culminated weeks of disagreement between him and President Michel Martelly. The departure of the former UN diplomat and favorite of the international aid community is a blow for both political stability in Haiti and for donor nations that had great hopes in a government that included his technical skills. Jason Marczak, AQ senior editor, says: “Expect President Martelly to move quickly in naming a successor, with a candidate likely announced this week.” Foreign Minister Laurent Lamothe is one possibility as is Chief of Staff Ann-Valerie Milfort. However, both would face a tough confirmation by an opposition-controlled legislature.
FARC Hostage Release: Colombia's FARC announced on Sunday that it will suspend all kidnapping and free remaining prisoners. Is this a political ploy or a true change in tactics? Given the group's decentralized nature, it is unclear whether the FARC secretariat can actually enforce the order, if it chooses to do so. Expect renewed debate this week on whether this may help to clear the way for an eventual peace dialogue or if the current strategy should continue without talks.
Honduran President Porfirio Lobo said on Saturday that the surge of police and military personnel in cities highly affected by drug-related violence—part of a mission known as Operación Relámpago (Operation Lightning)—has been successful in reducing crime.
According to the president’s remarks on national television and radio, the operation, which began on November 1, has lowered the rate of violence by 90 percent in Tegucigalpa and 50 percent in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ two largest cities. Lobo added, “From the results that have been obtained in a few days, we are confident that as time passes by the entire population will restore its confidence in returning to the streets without having fear of being victims of criminals.”
Operation Lightning was launched to combat a spiraling wave of violence in Honduras, which has claimed 20 lives every day and earned the Central American nation the highest homicide rate in the world—82.1 murders per 100,000 people—according to the 2011 Global Study on Homicide, which was published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Lobo has pledged a zero-tolerance attitude toward crime and corruption. He fired his top police chiefs in the end of October.
In efforts to combat an ongoing wave of narcotics-related violence, police forces in Honduras yesterday moved in on cities and neighborhoods dominated by criminal gangs. The mission, endorsed by President Porfirio Lobo and referred to as Operation Lightning, began in the large population centers of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. Lobo pledged to “do everything possible within the law to reduce the impunity that makes us all indignant.”
On Monday, the Associated Press reported that Honduras “has become a main transit route for South American cocaine” bound for the United States, and that Honduran authorities—in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and other partners—only intercept about 5 percent of the cargo.
According to the 2011 Global Study on Homicide, commissioned by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and released last month, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world last year: 82.1 homicides per 100,000 people. El Salvador, Honduras’ neighbor in the Northern Triangle, registered the second-highest homicide rate: 66 per 100,000 people.
Further, earlier this week Lobo fired his top police commanders in a measure to tackle corruption; four Honduran officers serving prison sentences for murder had been released from jail, inflaming public discontent.
The sixty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA) general debate began this morning in New York. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon opened the debate session followed by Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, president of the 66th UNGA and Qatar’s permanent representative to the UN.
This year, the first head of state to speak was Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, followed by U.S. President Barack Obama. President Rousseff’s prominent speaking slot at the UNGA is not only significant for Brazil, but also for women: Rousseff was the first female president in the UN’s 66-year history to open the General Assembly—a fact she highlighted at the opening of her remarks.
Rouseff began her visit to New York at a special meeting on Monday regarding non-communicable diseases, which was chaired by the former president of Chile—and current executive director of UN Women—Michelle Bachelet. Rousseff also co-chaired a meeting yesterday with Obama on open government partnership.
Additional Latin American heads of state that will deliver their opening speeches today to the morning session of the UNGA include: Mexican President Felipe Calderón; Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner; and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. In today’s afternoon session, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom, and Bolivian President Evo Morales will deliver their remarks.
Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya signed an agreement yesterday in Cartagena, Colombia—brokered by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—that allows him to legally return to Honduras for the first time since being overthrown in a June 2009 coup d’état. This accord was conceived at a meeting early last month between Santos, Chávez and current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo.
As part of the deal, Zelaya and his supporters will be allowed to participate in the Honduran political system. Corruption charges against Zelaya were dropped earlier this month. Lobo has pledged not to appeal them, meaning Zelaya can reenter Honduras without fear of prosecution Honduras is also expected to rejoin the Organization of American States as a full member, after being suspended one week after the coup took place.
At the Council of the Americas’ annual Washington Conference earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed support for this pact. Clinton noted that it will help reintegrate Honduras into the international community, calling this step “long overdue.”
More than a year after former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was forcibly removed from power in Tegucigalpa, Chile and Mexico on Saturday joined a growing number of Latin American countries to re-establish diplomatic ties with Honduras.
Although he did not offer a definitive timeline, Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno announced that Chile would soon resume full diplomatic relations with the Tegucigalpa government. Mexico, on the other hand, announced its decision to send its ambassador back to Honduras as early as next week. The decisions came in the aftermath of a 12-page report released last Thursday by the Organization of American States highlighting improving conditions in Honduras.
Other countries, including Ecuador, Brazil, and Venezuela are reluctant to re-establish relations with Honduras. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been supportive of reintegration and said in June, “President Lobo has done everything he said he would do,” “He has been very committed to pursuing a policy of reintegration.”
One year ago this week, the Honduran military expelled President Manuel Zelaya from the country. The coup immediately prompted domestic tumult and international condemnation. With elections in November, however, the Honduran political establishment and the Obama administration banked on the country moving beyond the coup domestically and normalizing relations with the world. But theirs were rose-colored glasses; a coup’s effects are not so easily undone.
Honduras is now struggling with the long-term damage that coups inflict on the rule of law and the enduring costs of international isolation. Even after de facto President Roberto Micheletti ceded power to Porfirio Lobo following an election, insecurity and impunity reign domestically, and most of Latin America continues to isolate the country. The battle for international legitimacy remains President Lobo’s principal concern, and has also brought issues onto the domestic agenda that put Lobo at loggerheads with powerful supporters of last year’s coup.
Many on the Right claim that, by ousting Zelaya, the political establishment was responding legitimately to an over-reaching president. And, indeed, in the first half of 2009, Zelaya flouted court rulings that deemed unconstitutional a referendum that would pave the way for a constituent assembly. At one stage, Zelaya and his supporters seized referendum ballots held by the military under Supreme Electoral Tribunal orders.
Word from the annual OAS General Assembly in Lima this week is that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appealed to the hemispheric community to re-instate Honduras to full membership, but that a number of other hemispheric countries, notably Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina, demurred. After a year wandering in the hemispheric wilderness since being expelled from the OAS in 2009, Hondurans are wondering what they need to do, to paraphrase BP’s chief executive Tony Hayward, to get their lives back. Indeed, duly-elected Honduran President Porfirio Lobo must be thinking right about now that he faces political difficulties approximating the Gulf oil spill, and that the clean-up efforts from last year’s coup ousting then-president Mel Zelaya are just as oily.