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Honduras - 2001 Election

Honduras is a constitutional democracy, with a president and a unicameral congress elected by separate ballot for 4-year terms. Parliamentary and presidential elections took place on 25 November 2001. Voters elected the nation's President, the 128 deputies in the National Congress, 20 representatives to the Central American Parliament (Parlacen) and 298 mayors. Voters elected Ricardo Maduro of the Nationalist Party president in elections that domestic and international observers judged to be generally free and fair. Maduro was scheduled to take office on January 27, 2002; he replaced President Carlos Flores Facusse of the Liberal Party. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judiciary is poorly staffed and equipped, often ineffective, and subject to outside influence.

Citizens choose a president, three vice presidents, and members of the National Congress by free, secret, and direct, balloting every 4 years. In 1997 voters for the first time were able to cast separate ballots for the President, Congresspersons, and mayors, making individual elected officials more representative and accountable. Suffrage is universal; however, neither the clergy nor members of the military or civilian security forces are permitted to vote.

While civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the security forces, members of the security forces sometimes acted independently of government authority regarding human rights abuses. Members of the police continued to commit human rights abuses. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, serious problems remained. Members of the security forces committed some extrajudicial killings. Well-organized private and vigilante security forces are alleged to have committed a number of arbitrary and summary executions. Human rights groups accused former security force officials and the business community of colluding to organize "death squads" to commit extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions, particularly of youth. Security force personnel beat and otherwise abused detainees and other persons. Prison conditions remain harsh, lengthy pretrial detention is common, and detainees generally do not receive due process.

Considerable impunity for members of the economic, military, and official elite, exacerbated by a weak, underfunded, and often corrupt judicial system, contributed to human rights problems. Although the civilian courts considered allegations of human rights violations or common crimes against armed forces personnel, and some cases went to trial, there were few, if any, convictions. While no senior Government official, politician, or bureaucrat, or member of the business elite was convicted of crimes, a number were under investigation during the year. The Government removed or demoted more than 200 military officials, police officers, police agents and investigators, and judges from office on corruption and other charges.

The country has a population of slightly more than 6 million. The market economy is based primarily on agriculture and, increasingly, on the maquiladora (in-bond processing for export) industry, which accounts for approximately 125,000 jobs, most of which are filled by young women. Approximately 33 percent of the labor force works in agriculture, followed by 24 percent in commerce, and 15 percent in manufacturing. The principal export crops are coffee and bananas; these, along with "value added" income from the maquiladora industry and remittances from Hondurans living abroad, are the leading sources of foreign exchange.

A small number of powerful business magnates whose business interests, political loyalties, and family ties often intersect own many news media. Systemic national problems, such as corruption and endemic conflicts of interest, also limit the development of the news media. For example, one of the four national newspapers is run by a recent presidential candidate and another is run by President Flores. Reporting of events, particularly those related to elections, is subject to editorializing.

The Government has various means to influence news reporting of its activities, such as the granting or denial of access to government officials, which is crucial for news reporters, editors, and media owners. Other methods are more subtle, such as the coveted privilege to accompany the President on his official travels. Journalists who accompany the President on such occasions do so at the expense of the Government, which grants or withholds invitations for such travel at will. The Government also has considerable influence on the print media through its ability to grant or withhold official advertisements funded with public monies. President Flores wielded considerable influence on the print media with his ownership of La Tribuna, the leading newspaper in the capital of Tegucigalpa. La Tribuna was founded by the late father of the President and still is run by his family. It competes directly with rival publications for scarce revenues from advertising, much of which comes from the Government itself.

The comparatively little investigative journalism that took place focused on noncontroversial issues. When the news media attempted to report in depth on national politicians or official corruption, they continued to face obstacles, such as external pressures to desist from their investigations, artificially tight reporting deadlines, and a lack of access to Government information and independent sources.

Numerous reported attempts by government officials and unidentified assailants to intimidate journalists in 2000 increasingly led both local and foreign observers to call into question the ability of the news media to report freely on sensitive topics. While newspapers circulate freely, and a number of radio and television stations broadcast freely, there are credible reports of media owners' repression against individual journalists who criticize the Government, actively criticize freedom of the press, or otherwise report on issues sensitive to powerful interests in the country.

In July Preventive Police disrupted peaceful protests by persons from Gualaco, Olancho, and 200-300 members of the Committee of Popular Organizations and Indigenous (COPIN), who joined them to protest hydroelectric projects in their respective communities, in front of the National Congress. The police forcibly dislodged peaceful protesters with billy clubs, tear gas, and water hoses (see Section 4). They injured 30 protesters and detained 13 who later were freed. The police detained COPIN members at a number of checkpoints in an effort to delay their entry into Tegucigalpa. No charges have been filed against Security Minister Gautama Fonseca for a similar detention of COPIN members in 2000. During the year, incidents in which farmers or local populations took over roadways in Colon, Olancho, and Choluteca met with police resistance. Police used tear gas and riot troops to clear roadways, killing one person in November and injuring a number of persons in each incident.

During the year 2001, voting was expanded to include Hondurans resident in five cities in the United States. After extended debate between Liberals and Nationalists over the extent and organization of voting abroad, the parties agreed to limit voting to the five U.S. cities with the greatest population of Hondurans, due to both budget and logistic considerations. Of 10,000 Hondurans who registered to vote abroad, slightly more than 1,000 voted. Any citizen born in Honduras or abroad of Honduran parentage may hold office, except for members of the clergy, the armed forces, and the police.

During the electoral campaign, the liberal presidential candidate, Rafael Pineda Ponce, appealed to the electorate to vote for continuity as he promised more spending on education and offered to improve public services with money gained by cracking down on tax evaders. His opponent, Ricardo Maduro of the Nationalist Party, focussed his campaign on crime and poverty issues as the country was witnessing an economic crisis aggravated by Hurricane Mitch that in 1998 killed thousands and caused billions of dollars in damage. The economic hardship had forced hundreds of thousands of Hondurans to seek work in the United States, where voting booths were set up for them in several cities.

A leading opposition politician was murdered on the eve of the elections. Angel Pacheco, a National Party congressional candidate in the southwest province of Valle, was shot dead by gunmen in front of his house in Nacaome, about 200 kilometres southwest of Tegucigalpa. Police said they had arrested at least three people in connection with the assassination. International observers described the elections as peaceful and fair.

On 25 November 2001, voters elected Ricardo Maduro of the Nationalist Party President in elections that domestic and international observers judged to be generally free and fair. Maduro defeated Liberal candidate Rafael Pineda Ponce, the President of Congress. Maduro received approximately 52.2 percent of the vote, and Rafael Pineda Ponce (Liberal Party) approximately 44.3 percent. The remaining three parties received 3.5 percent of the vote.

In the Congressional elections, neither major party won a majority. This was the first time in the country's electoral history that the President's party did not enjoy an outright majority in Congress. Maduro's National Party (PN) would not have an absolute majority in the newly elected Congress, as it obtained only 61 seats of 128 seats, The outgoing Liberal Party won 55 seats. The small parties, Party of Democratic Unification (PUD), the Innovation and Unity Party, and the Christian Democratic Party of Honduras (PDCH), that obtained 5, 4 and 3 seats respectively, made headway in the elections and will now have more influence in the country's politics.

After a major political conflict during the 2000 primaries in which the Liberals challenged the National Party presidential contender Ricardo Maduro for not being a "Honduran by birth," the Congress interpreted constitutional provisions on citizenship by birth, which allowed Maduro's candidacy. (Maduro was born in Panama of a Panamanian father and a Guatemalan mother, but Maduro and his mother both received official documentation of Honduran citizenship in the 1980's, through Maduro's Honduran maternal grandmother. Since that time, Maduro served as President of the Central Bank, a position that requires "Honduran by birth" nationality.)

There was some election violence leading up to the November elections. On November 23, a Nationalist Party congressional candidate from Valle department was killed; the initial suspects were from the Liberal Party. The District Attorney continued the investigation at year's end. On November 24, gunmen shot at the Liberal Party headquarters in San Pedro Sula late in the evening, but no one was in the headquarters and no one was injured. No one has been identified in the shooting.

A new political party may gain legal status by obtaining 20,000 signatures and establishing party organizations in at least half of the country's 18 departments. Each signature must be notarized on separate sheets of government stationery, each of which costs approximately $9 (150 lempiras). There are five recognized parties, including the Democratic Unification Party, which was accepted as a legal party in June. A sixth party, PUEBLO-H, attempted to register a presidential candidate but was unable to raise sufficient funds to pay for the government stationery. In October PUEBLO-H attempted to register four independent mayoral candidates, but the Government election authorities said that the party had not provided them with information in sufficient time for the registration to be reviewed before the election.

There are no legal impediments to the participation of women or minorities in government and politics; however, their percentages in government and politics do not correspond to their percentages of the population. Prior to the November elections, women held 12 of 128 seats in the National Congress and 2 of 20 Honduran seats in the Central American Parliament. In the November elections, voters elected women to 5 seats in the National Congress and 3 seats in the Central American Parliament. The Government established the National Women's Institute a number of years ago to address women's issues. There was one female justice on the Supreme Court. During the year, six female ministers served on President Flores's cabinet.

The 2000 Law of Gender Equality mandated that 30 percent of all candidates nominated for public office by recognized political parties be women. The National Party candidates for mayorships in the general elections fulfilled this requirement. None of the parties fulfilled this requirement for congressional positions, even though the political party leadership exercises the right to change congressional and even mayoral candidates after the primaries. Members of Congress are voted from party lists and not directly, and the central party committee makes the decision on the candidates for each department. Congresswomen and women's groups strongly criticized all five parties for their lack of female representation in the congressional slates after the results of the November elections.

There are few indigenous people in leadership positions in government or politics. There are three members of Congress who state that they are indigenous or Garifuna (Afro-Caribbean).

Mr Maduro took office on 27 January 2002.

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Page last modified: 10-12-2021 16:08:18 ZULU