On November 1 Honduras’s Libre Party skirted the Constitution and appointed two party loyalists as top Public Ministry (MP) officials. Johel Zelaya and Mario Morazán are the new attorney general and deputy attorney general, respectively. They represent a pivotal step for socialist President Xiomara Castro towards controlling all branches of government under a Nicaragua-style dictatorship.
Although not legally empowered to do so, the National Congress’s nine-member Permanent Commission appointed the two officials. Libre dominates the commission, with eight of the members, and is showing its proclivity for the law of the jungle when taking over the MP.
Article 205 of the Honduran Constitution establishes that Congress must gather at least 86 votes out of 128 members—a two-thirds majority—to elect new MP authorities. While Libre has 50 seats, the five remaining parties have 78 seats. The present Congress simply cannot elect new MP authorities without negotiations between Libre and the opposition. Neither side has the two-thirds on its own.
After four voting sessions between September and October, however, the National Congress failed to reach an agreement. The incumbents are supposed to remain in their positions until there are lawful replacements—according to the Law of Legislative Powers, Article 80. Castro has instead taken advantage of the confusion to railroad in her preferred picks.
The Honduran Supreme Court has affirmed Article 80 but has not ruled on this specific development. For now, the Castro regime appears to have gotten away with its ruse. Unfortunately, Honduras is accustomed to living with constitutional crises and court rulings that flout constitutional mandates. The case of President Juan Orlando Hernández serving two consecutive terms (2014–2022), despite the prohibition on reelection, is a flagrant example.
However, opposition leaders are rallying a pushback. On November 8, the National, Liberal, and Salvador parties announced the creation of a special commission, made up of nine congressmen. Its task is to “restore the constitutional order” and counter the illegal designations that are making a mockery of the rule of law.
According to Article 312 of the Honduran Constitution, the deadline for Congress to elect the new MP authorities was October 31. Hours before the creation of the Permanent Commission and the deadline, 74 opposition congressmen invoked an extraordinary legislative session to extend the period to appoint new MP authorities until January 24, 2024. This maneuver was legal: Article 190 of the Constitution states that extraordinary sessions need half of the members to be present.
Despite physical aggression from Castro’s supporters against opposition congressmen, which exemplified the regime’s totalitarian nature, the latter extended the deadline.
Momentos de tensión se viven en el Congreso Nacional, al enfrentarse diputados de oposición y del Partido Libre por el juramento de Johel Zelaya y Mario Morazán como fiscal general y adjunto interinos del Ministerio Público.
— Radio América HN (@radioamericahn) November 1, 2023
Congress Speaker and Libre partisan Luis Redondo, however, declared the deadline extension illegal. Instead, Redondo created the Permanent Commission, which he leads, to appoint the new attorney general and the deputy attorney general.
Libre congressmen contend that the MP appointments are legal because Article 208 of the Honduran Constitution states that a permanent commission of the National Congress can appoint interim officials if there are no authorities on duty.
However, blocking congressmen from entering the building does not make that true. The fact is that MP authorities were still on duty. While former Attorney General Óscar Chinchilla ended his term on August 31, Deputy Attorney General Daniel Sibrián took office as full attorney general one day later. In August, Sibrián explained, “According to the law, I have to continue in office until Congress appoints new MP authorities.” Article 80 of the Legislative Law establishes that the Congressionally elected authorities must remain in office until Congress appoints new authorities.
Redondo is aware of the law, but he cares not for its substance and is brushing it aside.
Opposition congressmen, prominent lawyers, and civil-society organizations agree that the Permanent Commission’s appointments are illegal and undermine the rule of law in Honduras. Tomás Zambrano, leader of the conservative-leaning National Party, characterizes the appointments as unconstitutional. For him, Libre has the “clear” intention to install a dictatorship similar to those of Venezuela or Nicaragua.
In an interview with the Impunity Observer on November 6, Maribel Espinoza, lawyer and congresswoman of the Salvador Party, contended that the Castro regime plans to transform Honduras into an authoritarian regime by controlling every branch of the state. In the same vein, Espinoza complained that the congressional leadership is violating the right to privacy of opposition congressmen through audio and video surveillance.
Al noble pueblo Hondureño, ONU, OEA, CIDH y a la comunidad Internacional: Desde el CN liderado por Luis Redondo y los diputados de LIBRE que le acompañan en ese objetivo, se está gestando un golpe a la Constitución que terminará en un golpe de Estado desde el propio poder…
— Maribel Espinoza (@AbogadaEspinoza) November 1, 2023
In a November 1 press release, the Honduran Council for Private Enterprise rejected the violent acts against opposition congressmen and Libre’s violation of the Constitution. With a 2022 GDP per capita of $2,500, Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the region. In addition, the country suffers from constant political crises that undermine its institutions.
The entrepreneurial environment is precarious, and this scares away potential investment in the country. The latter is crucial to bolstering economic growth and tackling emigration and out-of-control poverty. The poverty rate was 73 percent in 2021, according to Honduras’s own National Statistics Institute.
Appointing new MP authorities is a fundamental step to “re-founding the homeland,” which the Castro regime seeks to do. It needs the complicity of the MP to politicize justice and install an authoritarian government. An attorney general loyal to the regime can carry out investigations according to his preferences, which could also have an impact on the slated International Commission against Impunity (CICIH).
In December 2022, the regime and the United Nations signed an agreement to create this new institution. Although it might seem like a bright idea, recent events suggest this commission will be as politicized as that of Guatemala (CICIG), which then President Jimmy Morales shut down in 2019.
The Castro regime, with the support of anti-Western NGOs such as Progressive International, is undermining the country’s institutions by illegally appointing Zelaya and Morazán. One would be naïve to believe that the newly appointed MP authorities will only stay in office temporarily, until Congress reaches an agreement. Such an agreement shows zero sign of materializing, so Zelaya and Morazán could well hold the positions for the next five years.
The regime is following the handbook for totalitarian 21st-century socialism. Castro’s intention, flanked by her former president husband Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, has always been to control Honduras’s judiciary. Taking over the MP will help the regime protect itself from criminal accusations and politicize the country’s judiciary.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily the views of the Impunity Observer.
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