The Honduran government appears to be headed for another political crisis that is in some respects dismayingly similar to the events that led to the forced ouster of President Manuel Zelaya in June 2009, an episode from which the country has yet to fully recover. This time, however, it is not the Congress and the Supreme Court teaming up to take down the president, but rather the president and the Congress joining forces to neuter the Supreme Court.

In early December, the Congress voted to remove four of the five justices from the Constitutional Court within the 15-member Supreme Court. This body recently quashed two controversial government initiatives, including a plan to clean up the corrupt national police force by requiring all members to pass a polygraph test to keep their jobs.

Following the ruling on the polygraph tests, President Porfirio Lobo publicly accused the judges of colluding with powerful business interests to undermine his administration. Lobo asserted that he was battling the same forces that ousted Zelaya (an episode in which Lobo himself played a key role), suggesting that he too could fall victim to a “civil coup,” thereby setting the stage for the congressional vote to remove the judges.

The opposition PL has never fully acknowledged the legitimacy of Lobo’s presidency on the grounds that the interim government formed after Zelaya’s ouster did not have the legal authority to oversee the 2009 elections. Against that backdrop, the sacking of the Supreme Court justices will undoubtedly reinforce the opposition’s suspicions that Lobo is an aspiring dictator, adding to the already high level of political polarization.

The renewed threat of political instability creates an added deterrent to attracting foreign investment, the most important others being an epidemic of violent crime, widespread corruption, and inadequate infrastructure. The chances of a near-term improvement in any of those areas are low, a fact the government conceded by pushing a “charter cities” proposal, a scheme designed to create a mini-state within Honduras that would start with a blank slate and, over time, establish its own judiciary, its own police force, its own government, and its own policies.


The PRS Group
About The Author The PRS Group
The PRS Group is a leading global provider of political and country risk analysis and forecasts, covering 140 countries. Based on proprietary, quantitative risk models, the firm's clientele includes financial institutions, multilateral agencies, and trans-national firms.

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