Honduras, Constitutions

views updated

Honduras, Constitutions

Honduras has been governed under many constitutions, beginning with the Spanish Constitution of Cádiz (1812). Other constitutions were promulgated in 1825, 1839, 1848, 1852, 1865, 1873, 1874 (putting the Constitution of 1865 back in force), 1880, 1894, 1936, 1957, 1965, and 1982. In general, these constitutions produced in the nineteenth century alternated between reflecting the tenets of the Liberal and the Conservative parties. Of the myriad documents, those which have impacted Honduran political development more thoroughly include the constitutions of 1812, 1824, and 1965.

The Constitution of Cádiz was produced by the Cortes of Cádiz during the Napoleonic occupation of Spain (1808–1814) by Spanish and American representatives. The Kingdom of Guatemala was allotted twelve deputies to the parliament in Spain and regional diputaciones provinciales were set up in León, Nicaragua; Ciudad Real, Spain; and Guatemala City. Although this constitution was nullified by King Ferdinand VII upon his return to the Spanish throne in 1814, it was restored in 1820 and served as the basis for subsequent constitutions. It provided a division of powers among legislative, judicial, and executive branches, as well as constitutional restrictions on royal (executive) powers vis-à-vis legislative powers.

The Constitution of 1824 was promulgated throughout Central America upon the dissolution of the Mexican Empire and Central American secession. The five states of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica formed the United Provinces of Central America, a federal system that ultimately failed to hold together the five states. Yet, this same constitution set the framework for unification sentiments that have permeated the histories of all five, especially during the remainder of the nineteenth century. The Constitution of 1824 drew heavily on the Constitution of Cádiz and on the U.S. Constitution of 1789, as well as on the French legal tradition. The chamber of deputies held most of the political power and was elected by proportional representation of the eligible electorate. The electorate was limited by gender, literacy, and property qualifications. The legislative branch controlled the judicial and executive branches, and executive functions were divided between the executive and a senate. Provisions granting the "freedom and independence" of the states led to a struggle between the advocates of centralism and federalism and correlated directly with Liberal-Conservative divisions. After the dissolution of the United Provinces in 1839, Honduras was governed under a series of constitutions that alternated between Liberal ideals of free education, foreign investment, free trade, religious tolerance, and Conservative ideals of trade restrictions and protection of the church and indigenous peoples. The structure and balance of power did not alter as greatly on paper as it did in practice.

A Constituent Assembly, elected in 1963 following the overthrow of President José Ramón Villeda Morales, promulgated the Constitution of 1965. The Constitution of 1957 had already made significant changes in social policies, education, the family, electoral procedures, the role of the armed forces, and labor. Human rights had also been guaranteed under the Villeda administration. Dominated by National Party members (more a Liberal splinter group than a successor to the Conservative Party), the Constituent Assembly of 1965 designated Colonel Oswaldo López Arellano as the new president, to serve for six years. The assembly also declared itself the first Congress under the new constitution. The document divided the government into the same three branches and specified that the president be the commander of the armed forces. The legislature was unicameral and proportionally representative. The Supreme Court of Honduras consisted of seven justices serving limited terms.

The constitution is divided into fourteen "titles," which, despite hinting at the restoration of union, produce a very centralized government with a strong executive and a relatively weaker legislative branch. Over time, Honduran constitutions showed a political evolution from colony to state to republic, and from a strong legislative branch to a strong military and executive branch. However, the Constitution of 1965 reminded Hondurans that they were still part of "the Federal Republic of Central America" and, while assuring Honduran sovereignty, left open the possibility of Central American reunification in the future.

See alsoCortes of Cádiz; López Arellano, Oswaldo; Villeda Morales, Ramón.


Ramón Rosa, "Social Constitution of Honduras," in Ralph Lee Woodward, Jr., ed., Positivism in Latin America, 1850–1900: Are Order and Progress Reconcilable? (1971).

Harvey K. Meyer, Historical Dictionary of Honduras (1976).

Mario Rodríguez, The Cádiz Experiment (1978).

Luis Mariñas Otero, Las constituciones de Honduras (1982); and Honduras, 2d ed. (1983).

James A. Morris, Honduras: Caudillo Politics and Military Rulers (1984).

Additional Bibliography

García Laguardia, Jorge Mario. Honduras: evolución político constitucional, 1824–1936. México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1999.

Rojas Carón, León. La constitución Hondureña analizada. Tegucigalpa: Litografía López, 2006.

                                       Jeffrey D. Samuels