Friday, December 21, 2012

Honduran Congress Continues Assault on Judiciary

On Tuesday, the Honduran Congress passed a new law outlining the procedures for a controversial police reform push in the country, requiring members of the police force to submit to confidence tests but giving them access to due process in accordance with a recent Supreme Court ruling on the matter. 

While Reuters reported that the law’s passage was a “victory for the ruling party and President Porfirio Lobo after a recent conflict with the Central American country's highest court,” the wire service fails to touch on the move’s negative implications for judicial independence in Honduras.
Much of the Honduran press has characterized the law as Congress agreeing with a Supreme Court ruling, but it comes after lawmakers voted to remove the court’s four justices who ruled the government’s police clean-up law unconstitutional. This means that the law paradoxically adopts the same position that Congress dismissed four justices for defending.

As Honduras Culture and Politics notes, this appears to be part of a concerted effort by both the administration of President Porfirio Lobo and his congressional allies to establish Congress as the dominant branch of government in the country. 

Following the passage of the police reform law, pro-government legislators submitted a bill which would grant the legislature the authority to remove government officials, a power that it already claimed in dismissing the four Supreme Court justices. The bill, titled the Law of Political Judgement, allows Congress to dismiss any government official (elected or not) on the grounds of incompetence, negligence, corruption or actions lawmakers deem unconstitutional. These allegations would go before a congressionally-appointed commission, which would assess the merits of the case before making the final decision on removal.

If passed, the bill would amount to a major extension of legislative authority, solidifying the legitimacy of Congress’s dismissal of the Supreme Court judges and permanently weakening judicial independence in the country. 

As the Honduran Congress has gone on recess for the holidays, the bill will not be voted on until lawmakers resume their posts in early January. In the meantime, El Heraldo reports that the Honduran Lawyers’ Association (CAH) has joined with anti-corruption groups in backing a legal appeal of the judges’ dismissal, a sign that the apparent expansion of congressional authority will at least face some legal hurdles moving forward. 

News Briefs

  • The L.A. Times was granted a rare interview with powerful Honduran landowner Miguel Facusse Barjum, who has been accused of backing the country’s 2009 coup and ordering the murder of a Honduran human rights lawyer in September. Facusse denies the allegations, and says he is being scapegoated for his high political and economic profile.
  • Reuters takes a look at what the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez could mean for his allies around the world. The news agency points out that with Chavez out of power, Latin American leftists as well as anti-Western governments around the globe would likely lose an important source of both symbolic and economic support.
  • Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas told reporters on Thursday that Chavez is recovering from a recent operation in Cuba, and that a respiratory infection that was detected earlier this week is “under control.” Maduro did not say whether the president would be well enough to attend the inauguration planned for January 10th, although members of Chavez’s party have raised the possibility of postponing the ceremony to accommodate his health.
  • Ricardo Alarcon, who has been president of Cuba’s legislature for the past 20 years, will be leaving his post in February. Although the Cuban government has made no officials comment on his departure, Alarcon’s name was not among the list of 612 candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections published in the state-run Granma newspaper yesterday. The AP reports that Alarcon has been the point man for Cuba’s dealings with the US over the last two decades, and speculates that his removal may be an attempt to bring fresh blood to the country’s foreign relations.
  • Peruvian Interior Minister Wilfredo Peraza announced yesterday that the country had eradicated a record number of illicit coca cultivations -- 14,171 hectares -- in the course of this year.  According to La Republica, this is up from 10,275 hectares the year before. Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has drastically increased coca eradication efforts this year, likely influenced by a controversial White House report which found that Peru had surpassed Colombia to become the world’s top cocaine producer.
  • On the 11th anniversary of the riots which led to the ouster of Argentine President Fernando de la Rua in 2001, leftist groups held a protest in Buenos Aires’ Plaza de Maya yesterday, burning tires and effectively stopping traffic in the capital city, the AFP reports.
  • Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa sent a request to Congress yesterday that he be temporarily relieved from office in order to focus on his campaign in the upcoming February 17th elections. According to Telesur, Correa has asked that Vice President Lenin Moreno fill his shoes from January 15th to February 14th.
  • La Silla Vacia has published an overview of the six main ways in which Colombia’s political landscape changed in 2012. As the news site points out, the launch of the peace process has significantly altered the public debate on security policy, and the split between President Juan Manuel Santos and his predecessor Alvaro Uribe has for the first time in decades resulted in an opposition that comes mostly from the right.
  • A new Gallup poll has found that while 71 percent of Colombians support the government’s peace talks with FARC guerrillas, just 43 percent believe it will end in success.
  • This week’s issue of the Economist features an interesting piece on how a 140-year-old conflict, the 1865 War of the Triple Alliance, continues to haunt Paraguay today. Paraguay lost an estimated 60 percent of its population in the war against the combined forces of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, and its legacy remains an important contributing factor to Paraguayan nationalism. The magazine also offers a look back at Brazil’s historic mensalão trial, and an appraisal of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s first few days in office.

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