On the evening of Jan. 12 Honduras’ National Congress passed reforms to Articles 5 and 213 of the 1982 Constitution that would open the way to changing key elements of the document—including the ban on presidential reelection—by popular referendum. The changes were proposed by the rightwing National Party (PN) of President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa and were backed by other parties, including the Liberal Party (PL) of former president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009); 103 of the 128 legislative deputies voted for the reforms.
Two different sessions of the National Congress need to approve an amendment, so the changes will not be official unless approved the next session, which begins on Jan. 25.
Commentators were quick to note that the military removed former president Zelaya from office in June 2009 on the pretext that a nonbinding referendum he was promoting could have resulted in similar changes to the Constitution. President Lobo and many of the current legislators supported the 2009 coup as a defense of the Constitution. “So something that was bad when Zelaya tried it is good now?” a reporter asked President Lobo on Jan. 12. “Let’s not mix water with oil,” Lobo answered, claiming that Zelaya had been trying to extend his term.
Grassroots organizations denounced the new reforms as an inadequate response to the popular pressure for more extensive changes to the current Constitution, which was created at the end of nearly two decades of military dictatorship. The National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), a coalition of many different groups opposing the 2009 coup, said it would continue to push for a constituent assembly with the power to rewrite the Constitution, the object of the June 2009 referendum. The FNRP says it gathered 1,342,876 signatures for such an assembly during a petition campaign in the spring and summer of 2010.
Tomás Andino, a former Congress member from the center-left Democratic Unification (UD) party, attributed the government’s reforms to international pressure. He said the US was following a policy of supporting “moderate coup supporters” and dissociating itself from the “recalcitrant coup supporters.” According to Andino, Washington pushed the Lobo government in December to return Zelaya to Honduras from exile and to punish the “visible faces of the coup.” The government’s failure to follow the US plan lost Honduras $215 million of US aid from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Andino said, and could result in the loss of other aid. (Prensa Latina, Jan. 12; La Nación, Costa Rica, Jan. 13, some from ACAN-EFE; Red Morazánica de Información, Jan. 13, via FNRP website; Honduras Culture and Politics blog, Jan. 13) The US announced the Millennium Challenge suspension on Jan. 6. (AP, Jan. 6)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 16.