Years after crisis, Honduras considers impeachment

Story highlights

  • The Honduran congress passes a decree to create an impeachment process
  • Supporters say it is needed to avoid political crises
  • A 2009 coup and subsequent fallout could have been avoided with such a law, some say
  • Others wonder if Honduran institutions are mature enough to handle such power
Nearly four years after the Honduran president was deposed in a coup, the country's congress will add an impeachment process to its constitution, hoping to deter future political crises.
A decree to reform the constitution on the matter of impeachment passed Tuesday night with overwhelming support.
An impeachment process will help prevent authoritarianism, said Matias Funes, a writer who also is former congressman and presidential candidate.
In June 2009, the Honduran military carried out an order from the country's Supreme Court to remove President Jose Manuel Zelaya from office. Zelaya had been at odds with the other branches of government over his desire to to run for another term, and the court determined that the president had violated the constitution.
Without a clear interpretation of the constitution, the military ended up sending Zelaya into exile, and the country fell into a political crisis that other nations simply called a coup.
The episode was a black eye for the country, and to this day, a minority still question the legitimacy of the current government.
The 2009 coup and ensuing crisis could have been avoided if there was a clear impeachment process, Funes said.
"From my point of view there is a hole in this area and as long as this hole is not closed, it can be filled by special interests, whims and authoritarianism," he said in a statement posted on the congressional website.
The decree, which aims to "make effective the principal of public servants' responsibility," still must pass through some hoops before the constitution is modified. The reform must be voted on again once the next congressional term begins this month. Once ratified, new laws detailing the impeachment process must be written.
As written, Tuesday's decree envisions precisely the situation that Honduras faced with the Zelaya debacle.
The impeachment process would be used when there are "grave accusations against a person's post by acting contrary to the constitution or the national interest, and by negligence, incapacity and incompetence," the decree states.
These are the same things that the Supreme Court and congress accused Zelaya of during his attempt to run for another term. Impeachment would require a three-fourths majority in congress.
The measure is not without its critics, who question whether Honduras' legislative branch is mature enough to wield such power without abuse.
The first movement toward a decree came last summer, immediately after Paraguay's president, Fernando Lugo, was removed from office through an impeachment proceeding.
While Paraguay's solution for ousting a president was legitimated by the country's laws, many cite it as an example of how impeachment can be abused.
Lugo was removed from office in a matter of days, with hardly a chance to defend himself. The process that removed him may have been legal, but it caused a stir all the same because it seemed to have been used as a political weapon.
An impeachment process for Honduras "is very risky and is unacceptable," a former president, Rafael Leonardo Callejas Romero, told La Prensa newspaper last year.
Knowing the political divide that exists in Honduras and the vengefulness that dominates the traditional parties, the advent of impeachment will generate chaos, he said.
But the legislation is popular among the public, and it follows a suggestion made in 2011 by a truth commission appointed to examine the political turmoil of 2009.
To avoid a repetition of the institutional fights that led to the capture and expulsion of Zelaya, an impeachment process is necessary, the commission's final report said.