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Reina appoints his own defense minister

From Central America Update, Vol.II no.3, 1-15 February 1996

Ignoring the recommendations of the chief of the armed forces, President Carlos Roberto Reina named Col. Jose Luis Nunez Beneth as his new Minister of Defense. Armed Forces chief Gen. Mario Hung Pacheco had previously recommended three other candidates for the position.

Until now, defense ministers were chosen by the armed forces chief, with presidential approval serving as a "rubber stamp." Reina's failure to take Hung Pacheco's advice -- by nominating either Col. Francisco Bustillo, Col. Luis Soto, or Col. Cristobal Corrales -- is unprecedented. Reina defended his decision, declaring that "the president cannot be compelled to do things by subordinates."

Hung Pacheco said he would respect Reina's decision with no "resentment." The swearing-in was scheduled to take place at the presidential palace during the afternoon of February 14, but Nunez Beneth failed to show up for unknown reasons. Fears of military agitation were calmed the following day, when President Reina administered the oath of office at Tegucigalpa's Toncontin Airport shortly before leaving for a summit meeting in Costa Rica.

Nunez Beneth was director of the National Defense College. He will take the place of outgoing Defense Minister Reinaldo Andino. In an editorial, the daily Tiempo argued that "the fact that for the first time in many years President Reina has ignored this illegitimate process ... is not extraordinary. ... It would have been exceptional if the president had named a civilian instead of another officer, which is what normally happens in democratic countries."

Currently, the position of defense minister is seen as that of a figurehead, with the armed forces chief holding actual power within the military. This is set to change in 1999, when the term of Hung Pacheco -- whose position is to be abolished -- comes to an end.