Back in 1982, when Honduras worked to pass their twelfth and most democratic constitution, Hondurans had hope for the potential of their democracy and government. They were optimistic about the power it had to bring their country and its people together. The Constitution included one law that people were particularly excited about. That law permanently banned presidents from running for reelection, meaning that they could only serve a maximum of one four year term in office. This was super important to Hondurans because they feared autocratic rule. They liked the idea of democracy and how it gave the people a voice in the decisions that matter. By limiting the amount of time that any one person could stay as president, the most powerful political position imaginable, they are decreasing the likelihood for that person to consolidate their power and turn into an autocrat.
As time went on the amount of people that believed in fighting against the threat of autocracy before it took over dwindled significantly. Many began to find disgust in the idea of actively fighting for democracy and against autocracy through presidential term limits. Their power hungry desires and motives driven by self interest took over. So much so that by 2009 there was such a grand amount of people in support of rewriting the Constitution that the president at that time, President Zelaya announced that he would hold a public assembly on the matter so that individuals would have the opportunity to voice their opinions, debate one another, and hopefully consolidate all ideas to come up with a decision on whether or not to rewrite the constitution. The fact that the rewriting of the Constitution was even being debated and the term limits was not being protected or recognized as still significantly important outraged people including several members on the Honduran Supreme Court and the then congressman Juan Orlando Hernández so much that they organized a military coup of president Zelaya. Hundreds of soldiers swarmed into his house, picked him up, shoved him on a plane, and flew him away so that the National Congress could impeach him without him resisting so that by the time he would come back to Honduras he would have no power to hold the public assembly and the Constitution would remain the same.
This military coup left Honduras completely divided and torn up. Some Hondurans were completely elated that this occurred, they didn’t care that such extreme forceful measures were taken to shut down the public forum from happening because at the end of the day the Constitution remained the same. Others, while they wanted to keep the constitution as written in order to protect presidential term limits, felt ashamed, embarrassed, and appalled that such an event occured and that the president was forced into impeachment. Those who favored a redrafting of the constitution also were divided on the issue.
Whether people were for it or against it, the fact that it happened was not good for the democracy of Honduras. It was a pure demonstration of extremism and the ridiculous lengths that people are willing to go to for their own self interests and beliefs regardless of the expense of others. This event marked a turning point from stable democracy to democratic backsliding.
The years following the military coup and dethronement of president Zelaya the political climate was incredibly uneasy. And in 2014 when Juan Orlando Hernández assumed the role, the climate of Honduras did not get any better, in fact, his rise to presidential power erupted even more chaos. Juan Orlando Hernández was a very controversial person in Honduras. Hondurans remembered him as not only a member of congress during the military coup of President Zelaya but a ringleader of the whole impeachment. Therefore, people were very skeptical when he became the president. I don’t blame them for being skeptical about how he got to that position. It seems pretty corrupt to me that someone would work so hard to throw a president out of office and then rip their position right from underneath them. Therefore Hondurans had very little trust in president Hernández before he even started his presidency. He was known to be extreme. The public saw it. The backsliding continued as Hernández’s power hungry ways and dishonest intentions became more and more clear. The public institutional faith was cracking.
As Hernández went about his first year as president, it was revealed that he had stolen $90 million from the Honduras National Health Service and transferred it to his campaign funds. Later that year he managed to use his connections to gain control over the Supreme Court, National Congress, police force, military, attorney general’s office, and most dangerously, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal which is in charge of the balloting process in Honduras. In just one year Hernández managed to consolidate his power and become one of if not the most powerful presidents in history. He had control over the election board that was in charge of his own election for Pete’s sake. This was ridiculous. The worst part about it was that the majority of the public didn’t even know about all of the connections that he was making with other political leaders and organizations in order to increase his own power.
The way that Hernández was able to have an influential position in all of these organizations was because of his ability to mastermind the art of clientelism. Clientelism according to Isabela Mares and Lauren Young in the Annual Review of Political Science is when a political candidate exchanges goods and or services in exchange for political support. Although it is unknown what was said and or done to convince these organizations to politically support Hernández to the point where they gave him power, it is certain that it was through some sort of a clientelistic procedure.
Hernández’s mission to increase and consolidate his power didn’t stop there though, in 2015 he managed to convince the Supreme Court of Justice’s Constitutional Chamber to reverse the law on presidential term limits from the 1982 Constitution. This resulted in utter dismay from the public. This was enacted to protect the people from autocrats and here is this power hungry president making side deals and using corrupting methods to grow and strengthen his power. People were absolutely outraged. The anger worsened in 2017 when president Hernández became the first president in over 50 years to win a second term for a presidential election, and the first to do so since the establishment and later removal of presidential term limits. Hondurans feel abandoned as if everyone is a part of this greater scheme to promote corruption. They feel defeated. Many argue that the election was an absolute robbery from Hernández since the legality of the Constitutional Chamber reversing the law is immensely questionable. No where in the Constitution does it give the power to make amendments to the Supreme Court. The amendment process is the same as that in the United States, it needs to be proposed and passed in congress. On that basis, the reversal of the law should have never gone into effect and Hernández should not still be the president of Honduras. However, sadly for Hondurans, no matter how much they make the argument, almost everyone in a position of power is in cahoots with him. They don’t care about the legality. Its presidential corruption paving the road towards autocratic consolidation. The only hope Honduras has is their upcoming election. But for as long as the National Party stays in charge, autocratic consolidation seems inevitable.
Aguilar, Leonardo. “Supreme Court Ruling Allowing Honduran President’s Reelection Was
Based on a Lie.” Contra Corriente, 26 Aug. 2021,
An interview with Dana Frank, et al. “‘The Election Is Being Stolen.’” Jacobin, 12 Aug. 2017,
Carlin, Ryan E. & Mason Moseley. 2015. “Good Democrats, Bad Targets: Democratic Values
and Clientelistic Vote Buying.” Journal of Politics 77(1): pp. 14-26.
Freedom in the World, Honduras – April 2020 – Justice.gov.
Mares, Isabela and Lauren Young. 2016. “Buying, expropriating, and stealing votes.” Annual Review of Political Science 19: pp. 267-288.