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11.04.2009

The Honduran Crisis as Constitutional Inoculation?

It may be time to turn to some of the broader implications of the Honduran constitutional crisis now that a resolution to at least the immediate standoff is in sight.

In particular, what will be the fate of the Honduran constitution? Ironically, some have suggested that a constitutional convention to rewrite the document – the proposal of which set the events in motion -- would somehow bring closure to recent events. The predominant argument for a constitutional convention is the hope that Hondurans would benefit from some sort of national dialogue about institutions (and, presumably, some sort of healing). It’s hard to imagine real dialogue, at least in the current environment, and it seems likely that the institutional result would be something not too different from the current constitution. Certainly, one should not expect the adoption of a plebiscitarian document along the lines of the Venezuelan constitution from a constituent body that looks anything like the current legislature.


Indeed, the current constitution seems to have a rather healthy store of legitimacy and staying power. Adopted in 1982 after a spell of authoritarianism, it has now lasted longer than any previous Honduran constitution and ten years longer than the life expectancy of the average constitution. More than that, it now appears to have been inoculated by not one, but two threats to its being. It is worth recalling that many of the same group that defended the constitution this time around had floated the idea of their own term-limit bypass in 1985 in order to allow President Suazo to run again. That failure seemed to have strengthened their resolve of Michelleti and company to squash President Zelaya’s end-run around term limits.

Does the latest defense constitute another dose of crisis antibodies, something that will further inhibit future crises? The argument makes sense. We know that the risk to constitutions shrinks as they age (they crystallize, not decay). We also know that elites can more easily coordinate to defend constitutions collectively if they have expectations that others will join them. Certainly the 1985 defense and the more recent episode would provide just this sort of coordination. The 1982 Honduran constitutions may well be here to stay,albeit with some obvious revisions such as mpeachment provisions. We’ll see.



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