Government.The most important political offices are the national president, members of congress (diputados) and city mayors. In addition to the executive branch (a president and a cabinet of ministers) and a unicameral Congress, there is a supreme court.
Leadership and Political Officials.Honduras still has the two political parties that emerged in the nineteenth century: the Liberales and the Nacionalistas. The Liberales originally were linked to the business sector, and the Nacionalistas with the wealthy rural landowners, but this difference is fading.
Both parties are pro-United States, and pro-business. There is little ideological difference between them. Each is associated with a color (red for Liberals and blue for Nationalists), and the Nationalists have a nickname (los cachurecos which come from the word cacho, or "horn," and refers to the cow horn trumpet originally used to call people to meetings).
People tend to belong to the same party as their parents. Working on political campaigns is an important way of advancing in a party. The party that wins the national elections fires civil servants from the outgoing party and replaces them with its own members. This tends to lower the effectiveness of the government bureaucracy because people are rewarded not for fulfilling their formal job descriptions but for being loyal party members and for campaigning actively (driving around displaying the party flag, painting signs, and distributing leaflets).
Political officials are treated with respect and greeted with a firm handshake, and people try not to take up too much of their time. Members of congress have criminal immunity and can literally get away with murder.
Social Problems and Control.Until the 1990s, civilians were policed by a branch of the army, but this force has been replaced by a city police force. Most crime tends to be economically motivated. In cities, people do not leave their homes unattended for fear of having the house broken into and robbed of everything, including light bulbs and toilet paper. Many families always leave at least one person home.
Revenge killings and blood feuds are common in some parts of the country, especially in the department of Olancho. Police are conspicuous in the cities. Small towns have small police stations. Police officers do not walk a beat in the small towns but wait for people to come to the station and report problems. In villages, there is a local person called the regidor, appointed by the government, who reports murders and major crimes to the police or mayor of a nearby town.
Hondurans discuss their court system with great disdain. People who cannot afford lawyers may be held in the penitentiary for over ten years without a trial. People who can afford good lawyers spend little time in jail regardless of the crimes they have committed.
Military Activity.The Cold War was difficult for Honduras. In the past thirty years, the military has gone through three phases. The military government of the 1970s was populist and promoted land reform and tried to control the banana companies. The governments in the 1980s were nominally civilian but were dominated by the military. The civilian governments in the 1990s gradually began to win control of the country from the military.
In the 1980s, the United States saw Honduras as a strategic ally in Central America and military aid exceeded two hundred million dollars a year. The army expanded rapidly, and army roadblocks became a part of daily life. Soldiers searched cars and buses on the highways. Some military bases were covers for Nicaraguan Contras. In the mid-1990s, the military was concerned about budget cuts. By 2000, the military presence was much more subtle and less threatening.
For several reasons, the Honduran military was less brutal than that of neighbouring countries. Soldiers and officers tended to come from the common people and had some sympathies with them. Officers were willing to take United States military aid but were less keen to slaughter their own people or start a war with Nicaragua.
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