Latin America Advisor

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Will Castro Be Able to Tame Honduras’ Strained Politics?

Xiomara Castro is to take office today as Honduras’ first female president. Competing factions in her ruling Libre party have sought to install rival leaders of Congress. // File Photo: XiomaraCastroZ via Twitter. Xiomara Castro is to take office today as Honduras’ first female president. // File Photo: XiomaraCastroZ via Twitter.

Xiomara Castro is set to be inaugurated today as Honduras’ first female president, breaking 12 consecutive years of National Party rule. However, a dispute in the country’s Congress has threatened to overshadow Castro’s inauguration, as rival factions of her ruling Libre party have sought to install different leaders for the legislature. What are Castro’s biggest objectives for her presidency, and to what extent will her administration be able to achieve them? How will Honduras’ shift to the left affect its relations with other countries, such as the United States, China and Mexico? What are the biggest challenges that Castro will have to overcome when she takes office?

Emily Mendrala, deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs at the U.S. Department of State: “The United States expects strong, mutually beneficial bilateral relations under the Castro administration. The U.S. government is committed to partnering with leaders willing to uphold democratic institutions, combat corruption and protect human rights. Hondurans demonstrated their commitment to peaceful democratic processes in November. The selection of the new provisional leadership at the Honduran National Congress is a sovereign decision. We urge all parties to exercise restraint and resolve differences through peaceful exchange, for the good of all Hondurans. President-elect Castro’s stated commitment to combating corruption, including calls for an anticorruption commission with international support, signals a chance for stronger collaboration with the United States and other democratic partner nations to fortify democratic institutions and strengthen the rule of law. On the economic front, the new Castro administration’s emphasis on improving governance could enable greater investment and job growth, allowing Hondurans to benefit from the U.S. government’s Call to Action for private investment in northern Central America, which in 2021 lined up $1.2 billion in new investments for Honduras and its neighbors. Under this framework, for example, Nespresso has committed to sourcing beans from Honduras for the first time, and Microsoft is bringing broadband Internet access to rural communities. As Castro faces calls for improved security, we will continue joint initiatives to reduce violence. We remain committed to assisting Honduras as it fights the pandemic, building on efforts that have included the donation of nearly 3.9 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to date.”

Juan Carlos Sikaffy, president of the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise (COHEP): “Every new beginning is a new opportunity, and as such we see this new mandate of President-elect Castro. We will have our first female president, who also ends an era of governments led by either one of the two traditional parties: the National and Liberal parties. Along with these changes, we also must address the many challenges from past administrations, a pandemic and natural disasters that we have inherited. The new Castro administration must focus on solving problems such as rule of law, reducing the processes needed to establish business and transforming them to online processes, strengthening public institutions, reducing times and costs for imports and exports, capacity building for our people, improving the health and education systems, improving the energy sector, as well as the national budget and reducing national debt. These are not all easy tasks, and the government cannot address them alone. It needs the participation and compromise of everyone, including the private sector, as well as civil society and academia, who must work together to make sustainable solutions to the challenges. But the events that took place last Sunday, which resulted in the appointment of two parallel heads of Congress and the expulsion of 18 wayward deputies from the new ruling party, generated a division in the Libre party. This concerns us businessmen. We have called for dialogue between the parties, which is what we need to achieve an efficient government that provides us with a climate of peace and stability in all senses. We ultimately need job generation, more opportunities, more transparency and more development.”

Christine Wade, professor of political science and international studies at Washington College in Chestertown, Md.: “Xiomara Castro’s resounding victory was perhaps the most positive political development out of Honduras, maybe even Central America, in quite some time. With a mandate to root out corruption, fight drug trafficking, stop the employment and economic development zones (ZEDEs) and provide some measure of social justice to Honduras’ poor and marginalized communities, her agenda is very ambitious. Castro’s ability to make significant progress on corruption and drug trafficking was always going to be her main challenge. Criminal networks are so deeply rooted in state institutions that dismantling them will take years and significant international support. This is one area where properly directed U.S. assistance could have a big impact. Whatever honeymoon Castro might have expected was cut short last weekend when 20 Libre legislators voted with the National Party in circumvention of Libre’s agreement with the PSH party regarding congressional leadership. As a result of two parallel elections, there are now two individuals claiming to be president of the Honduran Congress. Even before her inauguration, splits within her party and the machinations of the National Party and its backers threaten not only Castro’s agenda, but the stability of the political system as well. Moreover, Castro is now faced with a faction of her own party that cannot be relied on to vote the party line, threatening any prospects of a simple majority in Congress—and her agenda. This crisis exposes just how critical dismantling corrupt criminal and political patronage networks is for the future of Honduras.” 

Hugo Llorens, former U.S. ambassador to Honduras: “Xiomara Castro’s landslide electoral triumph is a historic achievement by any measure. First, she is the first woman to be elected as head of state in a nation where political power has traditionally been the reserve of men. Second, her victory smashed the once-unassailable lock on power of the National and Liberal parties. President-elect Castro leads a Libre party that is an amalgam of the old progressive wing of the Liberals and adds a mass of disaffected youth of all classes clamoring for bold change. Castro is ideologically progressive and has a strong popular mandate to pursue deep reform. At the same time, Hondurans want virtuous leaders committed to common-sense approaches to tackle crime, improve health and education, advocate for social equity and create an investment climate to provide them decent jobs and wages. These high expectations will not be easy to fulfill. Powerful status quo political, economic and criminal interests will be arrayed against her to maintain the existing corrupt system. Thus, Castro needs strong international support if she has a chance to deliver, and so far, she has prudently shown a willingness to work closely with traditional democratic allies in the United States and the European Union. As the United States engages, it must be willing to listen, not preach, and mobilize a level of government and private resources that can genuinely make a difference. To deliver success, Castro must herself avoid sterile ideological traps and leverage her mandate and moral authority to unite the Honduran people in a common cause.”

Lucas Perelló, visiting instructor of international studies at Marymount Manhattan College: “President-elect Castro has an ambitious plan for her four-year term—none other than to ‘re-found’ a country that the National Party looted for more than a decade. The most pressing goal is to adopt policies that reduce poverty and violence, which force thousands of Hondurans to migrate each year. Castro will also prioritize the fight against corruption and impunity and might extend an invitation to an international anti-graft commission, similar to Guatemala’s defunct CICIG. Regarding foreign policy, Castro will collaborate with the Biden administration in their shared interest of addressing the root causes of migration. Castro might also break diplomatic ties with Taiwan and recognize the People’s Republic of China. The main problem, however, concerns Castro’s ability to govern. The president won as the candidate of a last-minute alliance between her left-wing Libre party, the centrist PSH party and other smaller forces. The coalition secured victory, but governing remains an open question. The Libre-PSH pact hangs by a thread, and Castro does not control her party—evidenced by the fact that several Libre lawmakers broke ranks with Castro to elect Luis Redondo as president of Congress. Instead, they joined forces with the outgoing National Party and most of the Liberal Party to elect Jorge Cálix. As a result, Honduras now has two legislatures claiming legitimacy. The political crisis that erupted before the inauguration put a sudden end to the optimism stemming from Castro’s historic triumph. Unless Castro and the congressional leadership sort out their differences, Honduras’ political situation will worsen before it gets better.”

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