Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Occasionally the actions of the National Congress of Honduras come pretty close to violating the intent of the Honduran constitution without actually violating the letter of the law. Nowhere is that more apparent than in how the Congress under the direction of Juan Orlando Hernandez skates on the edge of the law when it comes to Constitutional amendments.

Article 373 of the Honduran constitution, as clarified in 1986 by Decree 169-86, states that any constitutional amendment must be approved in two sequent Congressional sessions. The idea is that there be adequate time to publicize and debate the changes, both among members of Congress and the informed public. I doubt, however, that the framers of the constitution ever envisioned that those two sequent sessions would be literally six days apart, and that the Congressional session might be closed, and the vote secret, as has frequently been the case in the Congress as administered by Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Until last Thursday night, Honduras had a constitution that prohibited extradition. This prohibition was enshrined in Article 102 of the constitution. It states that no Honduran may be forcibly expatriated. It was clearly violated in 2009 with the military's expatriation of Manuel Zelaya to Costa Rica, officially whitewashed by the current Honduran Supreme Court.

But it was also violated back in 1988 with the forced extradition of Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros from Tegucigalpa to the United States. The military was involved in this extradition as well. Matta was a suspected member of the Medellin drug cartel living in Tegucigalpa. He had been known to the DEA since 1973. James Mills, in the Underground Empire, cites a DEA intelligence report as stating that Matta had financed the coup d'etat in 1978 that installed his partner in the drug business, General Policarpo Paz Garcia as "President" of Honduras.

Matta was also the owner of SETCO Air, the principal air transport company used the by Contras to haul fuel and arms to their camps, according to the US Senate Subcommittee report "Drugs, Law Enforcement, and Foreign Policy", an investigation of Oliver North's clandestine Iran-Contra drugs for arms swap. Furthermore, the report notes he was paid for this service by the US under a two year contract despite already being well known to the DEA as an important player in narcotics smuggling.

The DEA accused him of ordering the assassination of DEA member Enrique Camarena in Mexico. The DEA had tried several times to kidnap him according to Christopher Pyle in his book, Extradition, Politics, and Human Rights (page 282). On April 5, 1988, a group of 60 Cobras, the military's special forces unit, seized Matta as he returned home. He was immediately turned over the US Marshals, where he was handcuffed, hooded, and driven to the Tegucigalpa airport and flown to Miami.

Forced extradition; illegal.

Then Porfirio Lobo Sosa and Juan Orlando Hernandez flew to the United States for an emergency meeting with high level Homeland Security people. That was January 18, 2012. On January 19, 2012, Congress held a late night closed door session where a bill to modify article 102 to permit the extradition of Hondurans to countries with which the executive branch has negotiated an extradition treaty was introduced, voted on, and passed without further discussion. Did I mention the text of the bill was not revealed outside of Congress "for security reasons".

So on January 19th of this year, at the tail end of the second congressional session, this constitutional reform was introduced debated and passed all within a few hours. Six days later, the third session of this Congress began on January 25. This bill was brought up in a closed session, debated, and approved that evening.

So Juan Orlando Hernandez took six days total to modify the constitution, holding votes in two sequent sessions of Congress. While that accelerated process does fulfill the letter of the law, it clearly thwarts the intention of the writers of the Constitution, who wanted to encourage public discussion of the bill between its initial and second vote.

Marvin Ponce, of the UD Party, says the bill's language and origin are foreign.
"This is a law logically which comes more from outside than inside,"

said Ponce. Remember that secretive flight to the US by Lobo Sosa and Hernandez the day before its introduction?

January 27 that constitutional amendment (Decreto 02-2012) was published in La Gaceta (El Heraldo called it "at the speed of lightning") and became law and we got to read it for the first time. Extradition is permitted if the crime involved is one of drugs, terrorism, or organized crime.

Not too shabby if you're a political operative bent on having your way, but hardly transparent, democratic, or promoting of national debate.

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