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HONDURAS: LEGISLATURE ENDS ARMED FORCES AUTONOMY.

Culminating a long demilitarization process, the National Assembly gave final ratification to a measure ending the autonomy of the Honduran Armed Forces. With a new civilian defense minister in place, the era of the military's constitutional intrusion into Honduran political life appears to have ended. Since 1957, when the post of Armed Forces chief was established, the military operated as a parallel government and took over the government in the 18 years before 1980. In the 1980s, the military, helped by compliant civilian governments, led Honduras into the US-backed wars against the Central American left under the doctrine of national security (see Update, 10/30/92). On Jan. 25, the Assembly ratified the constitutional changes needed to abolish the post of Armed Forces chief. During the past several years, the military has been forced to surrender much of its power. It lost its secret police in 1993, military conscription was ended in 1994, and in 1997 it lost control of the Fuerza de Seguridad Publica (FUSEP). FUSEP was abolished in 1998 in favor of the Policia Nacional (PN). The Armed Forces also lost control of various nonmilitary entities such as the telecommunications system and the immigration service (see NotiSur, 12/17/93, 06/03/94, EcoCentral, 10/30/97). Two days after the Assembly vote, Armed Forces chief Gen. Mario Hung Pacheco repeated the ceremony enacted last May, handing the baton representing command of the military to President Carlos Flores. With that gesture, Hung Pacheco became the last Armed Forces chief, while the powerful Consejo Superior de las Fuerzas Armadas (COSUFA), which functioned as a legislative body for the military, ceased to exist. It will be replaced by the Junta de Comandantes. During the ceremony, Flores said, "The changes we are making are necessary and inevitable if effective democracy is to become a reality." Hung Pacheco said reorganization of the high command was in keeping with the building of a modern state, and noted that the changes occurred "without shedding a drop of blood." Also forming part of the military's transformation is an Assembly decision to authorize the Armed Forces to work in nonmilitary tasks such as literacy campaigns, environmental and health programs, and in narcotics control. A day after the ceremony, Flores named Edgardo Dumas Rodriguez as defense minister replacing Col. Cristobal Corrales Calix. Dumas was a member of the editorial board of La Tribuna, a daily newspaper owned by Flores. Before taking the Defense Ministry post, he was ambassador to the US. In the past, presidents chose defense ministers from nominees provided by the military, and the defense ministers had no authority independent of the Armed Forces chief. While the president has always been the constitutional commander of the military, previous presidents have said their authority over the military was minimal. Defense minister inherits problems Gen. Hung Pacheco leaves Defense Minister Dumas with serious problems in the three branches of the Armed Forces, according to Col. Carlos Andino, leader of a group of dissident officers unhappy about promotions and other issues. Andino told reporters that the appointment of Col. Rodolfo Interiano as army chief was illegal because 58 other colonels were ahead of him in seniority. Dissident officers also want Flores and Dumas to adjust salaries and to end "polarization" within the Armed Forces caused by Hung Pacheco's attempt to appoint "puppets" to key posts. In a related matter, the National Assembly will consider a bill to permit members of the Armed Forces to vote in national elections. Assembly Deputy Renan Inestroza of the Partido Nacional introduced the proposal to change Article 37 prohibiting members of the 12,000-troop military from voting. If approved in this session of the Assembly by a two-thirds vote, the bill will have to be approved again by the next legislature if the military is to participate in the 2001 general elections. (Sources: Reuters, 01/28/99; NotiMex, 01/09/99, 01/25/99, 01/26/99, 01/27/99, 01/28/99, 02/05/99, 02/01/99)
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Publication:NotiCen: Central American & Caribbean Affairs
Geographic Code:2HOND
Date:Feb 11, 1999
Words:666
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