Mr. Hernández's Stranglehold on Power

  • Written by  Wendy Griffin

The new President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández of the National Party, is a very well educated and intelligent man. Although from a large rural family in one of Honduras’s poorest departments, Lempira in western Honduras, President Hernández went to San Pedro Sula’s Polytecnico del Norte High School, a military style private school, partly because when he grew up there were no public high schools in all of Lempira. That would be akin to saying there were no high schools in the whole state of Connecticut, and so it would be necessary to attend junior and senior high school in Massachusetts. Mr. Hernández went on to earn his law degree from the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) in Tegucigalpa and was involved in conservative politics in student government. 

Mr. Hernández had a brilliant career in law. He was a professor of constitutional law at the UNAH. He also has a Master’s degree in public administration, with a specialty in legislation from the State University of New York. In terms of academic preparation, he is definitely in the top 1 percent of Hondurans, and he seems to have very actively taken to heart what he learned. At 45 years of age, Mr. Hernández is young and robust.


Having approved about 100 laws since the general elections in November 2013, Mr. Hernández has impressed me with his energy, his understanding of the Honduran political system, and his sheer command of written Spanish, which is uncommon even among Honduran lawyers. A report published by the UNAH report 50 percent of university students in Honduras have to drop out due to insufficient Spanish reading and writing skills.


Mr. Hernández has surrounded himself with intelligent, well-prepared people. The new president of the National Congress is a medical doctor from Choluteca, Mauricio Oliva, who has done postgraduate work at Honduras' teaching hospital, the Hospital Escuela. He is described as having been the person who actually ran the Congress during the last two years when Mr. Hernández, who was officially the leader of that body, was away campaigning for the Presidency during the Lobo adminstration. Mr. Hernández's new General Coordinator of the Government (or "Super Minister"), Jorge Ramón Hernández Alcerro has been Honduras’ representative to the United Nations and Ambassador to the US.


The work of the legislative secretaries alone has impressed me. It takes a lot of work to type up and proof as many laws as the Honduran Congress has passed during the past 4-5 months. Apart from the President, I don’t know if anyone has found the time to actually read and analyze all these pieces of legislation. Most of the laws were passed with little or no debate.


I have seen Mr. Hernández's leadership style only once before in Honduras -- “The we will speak with one voice, my voice“ kind. (Then, of course, the leader proceeds to sell people down the river whenever it suits him.) When I saw that style of leadership before in Honduras I thought, “I know why Africans take up arms against their leaders. It is the only way to get them to listen if that is how they lead.”


It is well documented that a number of Hondurans took up arms against President Tiburcio Carias when he was power during 1933-1949 and did not permit any opposition. President Carias policy toward Liberals in Honduras was simple: exile, jail, or bury. The fact that a major new study of former Liberal President Carlos Roberto Reina (1994-1998), who was jailed under Carias, is being released now is as much a reflection of today's reality as it is of times long ago.


Honduran government decisions about money are made in two places. One place is the National Congress, which determines the budgets for everything. The other place are the government’s ministries (officially called secretarías) which often manage the internationally-funded projects. After the initial counts for last year's general elections were known, it was clear that the National Congress was going to be heavily divided, with about 60 percent of the seats going to political parties other than the President's National Party. Everyone wondered, "How is the President going to govern with a divided Congress?" Some wondered who would decide the appointments to the new government posts.


If you have ever worked in a large organization in the US, you know the most important committee is the one that deals with the setting of agendas. If you cannot get what you want discussed placed on the prepared agenda, your issues will not be heard or have the chance to be voted on. In the National Congress, the committee that sets the agenda is called the Junta Directiva. Mr. Hernández was able to get a Junta Directiva where no opposition party had a voice -- not Libre, not PAC, and not the Liberals. When the other members of Congress realized this move, they protested. But to no avail. For the next four years, the agenda in Congress will be determined by the Nationalists. No issue can be debated or vote be taken on anything unless it is pre-approved by the Junta Directiva. Period. Talk about power.


Before Mr. Hernández was president of the Congress during the Lobo years, he was assistant to the Secretary of the Congress, who just happened to be his brother. He thus learned firsthand how what gets approved by the Junta Directiva  gets discussed and what is written by the Secretary and is published by the government's official newspaper, la Gaceta, becomes law even if it is different from the official congressional record. Leaves a lot room for tampering. These are some of the key tricks of the trade which Mr. Hernández is using to get what he wants. So far, he has done a masterful job. (4/24/14) (photo of Juan Orlando Hernández courtesy Internet)



Note: Wendy Griffin is the co-author of the book "Los Garifunas de Honduras" (1995) and was previously a reporter for Honduras This Week about Honduran ethnic groups including the Garifunas and an anthropology professor for the UPN in La Ceiba. Since 1996, she has split her time between living in the US and volunteering and living in Trujillo... in or near the Garifuna neighborhoods there.

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