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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
03TEGUCIGALPA1761
2003-07-25 14:59:00
UNCLASSIFIED
Embassy Tegucigalpa
Cable title:  

HONDURAN CONGRESS LOOKS TO REPEAL IMMUNITY FOR

Tags:   PGOV  PHUM  KJUS  KCRM  HO 
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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TEGUCIGALPA 001761 

SIPDIS

STATE FOR DRL/PHD, WHA/PPC, AND WHA/CEN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KJUS KCRM HO
SUBJECT: HONDURAN CONGRESS LOOKS TO REPEAL IMMUNITY FOR
PUBLIC OFFICIALS

REF: STATE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TEGUCIGALPA 001761

SIPDIS

STATE FOR DRL/PHD, WHA/PPC, AND WHA/CEN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KJUS KCRM HO
SUBJECT: HONDURAN CONGRESS LOOKS TO REPEAL IMMUNITY FOR
PUBLIC OFFICIALS

REF: STATE


1. (U) SUMMARY: On July 9, 2003, leaders of the major
political parties in the Honduran National Congress announced
their intention to repeal the general immunity granted
congressmen and other high ranking public officials under the
Honduran Constitution. The initiative comes after the recent
arrests of two elected Honduran officials on charges of
narcotrafficking. Initially, no congressmen or other
government officials spoke out against the proposed change to
the Constitution, but in the days since the announcement a
number of public office holders stated that repealing all
forms of immunity would be counterproductive. END SUMMARY

--------------
The Process Begins
--------------


2. (U) On July 9, 2003, leaders of the major political
parties in the Honduran National Congress announced their
intention to repeal the general immunity granted congressmen
and other high ranking public officials under the Honduran
Constitution. During a joint press conference, leading
members of the National Party (PN), the Liberal Party (PL),
and the Christian Democrat Party (DC) said Congress will
repeal Article 200 and Section 14 of Article 205. These two
portions of the Honduran Constitution grant a long list of
public officials immunity from criminal prosecution, and from
other requirements placed on the general population.

--------------
The Articles
--------------


3. (U) Article 200 of the Honduran Constitution grants
members of the National Congress immunity from court summons,
all manner of searches (i.e. house, vehicle, etc...),
detentions, lawsuits, and court judgments. Section 14 of
Article 205 extends these immunities to the President,
presidential appointees, members of the Supreme Court,
members of the National Elections Tribunal, and a long list
of other political appointees. A bill to repeal these two
portions of the Constitution has already been sent to the
Rules Committee for review.

--------------
Voices For and Against
--------------


4. (U) The President of the National Congress, Porfirio Lobo

Sosa (PN), said that the PN, PL, and DC are firm in their
decision to repeal immunity, and that he expects the other
political parties to follow suit. Speaking on Frente a
Frente, a politically focused morning television show, the
Vice President of Congress, Ramon Velasquez (DC), said
repealing these two portions of the Constitution would make
public officials and the average citizen equal before the
law. PL Secretary General, and member of Congress Jamie
Rosenthal said that by repealing these sections of the
Constitution, Honduran members of the Central American
Parliament would also be stripped of their immunity.
President Ricardo Maduro, Supreme Court President Vilma
Morales, and other high-profile individuals, such as Cardinal
Oscar Andres Rodriguez, also voiced their support for a
repeal of immunity immediately following the congressional
leadership's press conference.


5. (U) However, not all Honduran officials concur. The first
public official to question the repeal initiative was
Assistant Attorney General Juan Arnaldo Hernandez of the
embattled Public Ministry. He said that certain government
agencies and public officials will always need immunity,
because without it they would become mired in
politically-inspired litigation. Minister of Public Security
Oscar Alvarez said that Congress should carefully study the
implications of lifting immunity, because those combating
narcotrafficking need some form of protection. Similarly,
President of the Honduran Court of Claims (the court
responsible for hearing cases against the government), Renan
Sagastume, told the press that public officials should retain
immunity which relates to their official duties. Even
President Maduro, who had initially voiced unconditional
support for the initiative, tempered his stance by saying
presidential immunity should be limited to cover only those
actions directly related to official duties.

--------------
On the Right Path
--------------


6. (SBU) COMMENT: The initiative to repeal public
officials, immunity is a significant step in the right
direction for efforts to end the abuse of state power in
Honduras. It also demonstrates just how radioactive the
issue of Congressional immunity has become. On one hand, the
public condemnation that accompanied the recent arrests of
two Congressmen on unrelated narcotrafficking charges has
made it impossible for the National Congress to ignore calls
for reform. On the other hand, some elements of the Congress
want no real reform to take place. The initiative to repeal
all immunity for all government officials is the result of
these two competing desires, because while outwardly
appealing to public sentiments, the proposal is so
problematic from a democratic-governance point of view that
it is unlikely to become law. Even so, given the current
political climate, some type of reform will likely be
enacted. END COMMENT
Palmer