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30 Aug 2023 | Commentary

Honduras Attorney General Election Breakdown 2023

At the crossroads of a critical juncture, the upcoming election of a new Attorney General (AG) and Deputy Attorney General on September 1 carries immense significance for Honduras. As established by Honduran law, the AG oversees the prosecution of crimes, holding the pivotal position of overseeing the justice system across the country – a system that human rights experts have highlighted as in dire need of substantial reforms.

Past AG elections have drawn sharp criticism due to irregularities, including the 2018 election when the Honduran Congress chose Oscar Chinchilla for a second term, disregarding the final list of candidates proposed by the Nomination Board. Under Chinchilla, Honduras has reached a 90 percent impunity rate and has received international criticism for manipulating the justice system and criminalizing human rights defenders while protecting corrupt politicians. 

The selection process for the new AG began earlier this year, amid fervent calls from both civil society and the international community to adhere steadfastly to international standards and ensure transparency throughout the process. As stated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the AG is “essential for access to justice, guaranteeing the rule of law, the fight against impunity, and the defense of human rights.” Effecting the much-needed structural reforms within Honduras’ justice system necessitates the appointment of an independent and autonomous Attorney General, who can institute the transformative changes that the country urgently requires.


Selection Process and Timeline:

The National Congress holds the ultimate authority in the selection of the  Attorney General. They choose from a list of five candidates presented by the “Junta Proponente” or Nominating Board. This board’s role is to refine the pool of applicants by evaluating their qualifications against a set of criteria using a scale of 1 to100. The five candidates with the highest scores move onto the final round. The selection process can be broken down into five phases: the establishment of the Nominating Board, the call for applicants, the review and investigation of applicants, the evaluation and rating of applicants, and finally, the selection of the new Attorney General.  


Key Dates

May 31 → The announcement of the Nominating Board, which comprises representatives chosen in accordance with legal guidelines. The board was formed by President of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) Rebecca Raquel Obondo, CSJ Magistrate Wagner Vallecillo, Head of the National Commission on Human Rights (CONADEH) Blanca Izaguirre, Representative of the Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) Odir Fernández, Private Universities Representative Julio Raudales, Representative of the Honduran Bar Association (CAH) Alejandro Hernández, and Civil Society Representative Jose Ramón Avila are selected. 

June 17 → The deadline for submitting applications. Twenty-six candidates present themselves to be considered by the Nominating Board. The number of candidates is reduced to 24 after two fail to meet initial requirements. 

June 18 → Candidates submit evidence contesting any complaints filed against them. During the period called the “strikeout” phase, critics present a range of complaints against the candidates, arguing why they should not be considered for the position of Attorney General. Overall, 35 complaints were filed against 21 candidates. 

July 20 → The Nominating Board announces which candidates will move onto the public interview phase which consists of 15 applicants.The Nominating Board conducts final investigations into several candidates who were not included on this list of candidates moving onto the next phase..    

July 24 → The final list of candidates moving on to the public interview phase is announced, with 13 in total. The Head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Corruption Networks (UFERCO), Javier Luis Santos, was excluded from this list due to a complaint filed by the Attorney General’s Office (FGR).

July 26 → Public interviews begin. In this phase, each candidate is given 45 minutes to answer questions related to their personal and professional integrity, ethics, technical capacity for the role, and their vision for the next five years running the Attorney General Office. 

August 1 → The Nominating Board presents the final list of five candidates for Congress to select the next AG. 

September 1 → The next AG begins their term.


The Candidates:

The five candidates advancing to the final stage received the highest scores through an evaluation process that rates each AG hopeful on a scale of 1 to 100 considering a range of qualifications. Here is the list of these candidates:

Jenny Gabriela Almendares Flores – 95.55

The only woman to make it to the final stage, Jenny Alemandares Flores is a lawyer with over 30 years of experience, specializing in human rights and gender based violence. Previously, she worked as the head prosecutor in Tegucigalpa from 1999 to 2015. In  her interview, Almendares Flores said that she plans to revamp the technological capacity of the Attorney General’s Office and work to undo protections for politicians involved in corruption.

Mario Alexis Morazán Aguilera – 87.98 

Morazán Aguilera holds a masters in human rights law and a doctorate in criminal law. Currently, he teaches criminal law at the Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) and is the Secretary General of the Attorney General’s office. In his interview, he told the Nominating Board that as AG he plans to reevaluate staff, purging prosecutor’s not qualified for their positions. This is his first time applying for the AG position.

Marcio Cabañas Cadillo – 84.36  

Cabañas Cadillo is a lawyer with 23 years of experience working as a prosecutor. Currently he works as a prosecutor in the tax crimes division. Prior to assuming this role, he served as a prosecutor investigating cases related to organized crime and narcotrafficking. Cabañas Cadillo claims to have no political affiliations and seeks to take on the role of AG from an apolitical stance.

Joel Antonio Zelaya Álvarez – 80.94

One of the youngest applicants, Zelaya Alvarez is a lawyer who works for the Honduran Institute of Land Transportation (IHTT). Previously, he represented the communications company Hondutel as their attorney. He has been accused of not performing his duties at IHTT and accepting a double salary, hiding the fact that he also works as a counselor in the Mayor’s Office in Retoica. Civil society organizations have questioned his integrity and suitability for the position

Pablo Emilio Reyes Theodore – 75.26

Reyes Theodore is a private litigator who previously worked for the Supreme Court of Justice. He focuses on labor law and has a master’s degree in business law. He interviewed on July 27, where he emphasized the need to strengthen the capacity of the Attorney General’s Office both nationally and internationally.  



Since the beginning of the selection process, experts have expressed concerns regarding the selection process, which are summarized below: 

Weak legal framework 

Honduras lacks a regulatory framework for high-level positions like that of the AG. In the absence of such a framework, WOLA, in collaboration with other international organizations, called on the state of Honduras to “apply objective evaluation criteria (…) in line with international standards.” According to these standards, the selection of the Attorney General must be grounded in impartial procedures based on objective criteria. The process must be transparent, public, and open to participation from civil society. To assume such an important role, the Attorney General must possess experience and independence, being chosen based on merit rather than political affiliations.  

According to the Center for the Study of Democracy in Honduras (CESPAD), both the Attorney General’s Office Law and the Constitution fail to establish clear mechanisms for the selection of the AG, rendering the process susceptible to partisan manipulation. In February, the selection of new Supreme Court magistrates faced criticism, after a lengthy process of negotiations and trade-offs among the three major parties in Congress: the Liberal Party, the National Party, and the LIBRE Party. In response, civil society groups called upon Congress not to repeat these maneuvers and to refrain from using the AG selection as yet another bargaining tool. However, Congress has floated the notion of appointing not only an AG and Deputy AG, but also adding a third position of AG Administrator, as a way of appeasing the three major parties. 

Lack of transparency and civil society participation

Civil society has repeatedly expressed frustration over the Nominating Board’s lack of transparency. Initial requests for information submitted by civil society organizations have been slow and often remained unaddressed by the Nominating Board. Groups have also criticized the Nominating Board’s failure to engage fully with civil society, as only a limited number of members of the board are typically present during meetings. 

On July 26, Citizen Articulation Transparency and Justice denounced the Nominating Board for, “Revealing whistleblowers who, under a request for confidentiality, exposed information about self-postulants is an attack on their integrity.” The group urged the Nominating Board to clarify its actions and reiterated the call for transparency.

Two days later, on July 28, the International Observation Mission on the Selection of the Supreme Court in Honduras, formed by four international legal experts, announced that it would be returning to Honduras to provide technical support and accompaniment to civil society during the final stages of the AG election. The mission held a press conference on August 3 exposing shortcomings and challenges within the selection process. They identified several serious issues including a lack of space for civil society to meaningfully participate. They also cited issues with the public transmission of meetings of the Nominating Board as well as the website where resolutions from the Nominating Board were supposed to be published. 

Arbitrary exclusion and inclusion of candidates 

As the process has progressed, the arbitrary exclusion of Javier Luis Santos as a candidate has raised concerns. Following an examination of evidence related to information sent by the Attorney General’s Office regarding a 10-year-old lawsuit against Santos, the Nominating Board ultimately chose to exclude him from consideration. This decision has been met with strong opposition from human rights defenders and justice advocates, who have formally submitted a letter urging the Nominating Board to reconsider this exclusion. 

The letter highlights the danger of employing revenge tactics against prosecutors who are actively investigating high-level corruption, citing parallels with the increasing attacks on independent justice operators in Guatemala. Anti-corruption advocates are deeply concerned that Santos’ exclusion could be a form or reprisal for his work, which includes decades of experience as a prosecutor investigating high-level corruption in Honduras. In an interview, Santos disclosed that former President and political advisor to President Castro, Manuel Zelaya, has expressed his opposition to Santos becoming Attorney General due to his unwillingness to “accept political favors.” 


The path ahead

The responsibility for the decision now rests in Congress. As Congress deliberates on the selection of the next AG, it’s crucial for its members to recognize that this position must transcend politics; the AG´s duty should be to serve the people of Honduras, cutting across individual party affiliations. Looking ahead, it’s imperative for Honduras to establish clearer guidelines for the selection process to prevent manipulation by partisan interests. 

The next AG will play a crucial role in the operations of the future International Commission Against Impunity in Honduras (CICIH). Moreover, the individual chosen as the next Attorney General will undoubtedly confront challenges as they inherit a justice system that is profoundly distrusted by the Honduran populace. To effect progress in the fight against corruption and impunity, as well as to safeguard human rights in Honduras, this individual must be prepared to meet the demands of this formidable task.