Honduras election brings 1st female leader, major shift in politics

Free Party presidential candidate Xiomara Castro celebrates after general elections, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, November 28, 2021. Moises Castillo/AP

Tegucigalpa — Honduras’s leftist presidential candidate Xiomara Castro was headed for election victory Tuesday — making history as the first woman to govern the Central American nation — with her rival from the ruling rightwing National Party conceding defeat.

With just over 52 percent of votes counted, former first lady Castro led with 53.49 percent compared with 33.98 percent for her nearest challenger, the conservative Nasry Asfura.

While Hondurans were nervously awaiting the final election results, Asfura said he met with the LIBRE party candidate and her family to concede and congratulate her.

“I wish that God may enlighten and guide her so that her administration does the best” for Honduras, Asfura said in a video released by the National Party (PN).

The closely watched poll came four years after presidential elections marred by fraud claims and violence, and the PN was quick to highlight “the climate of peace and tranquility in the country” even though the ruling party was ousted from power.

Washington also hailed the Honduran people and their “free and fair election.”

“We congratulate them and President Elect @XiomaraCastroZ and look forward to working together to strengthen democratic institutions, promote inclusive economic growth, and fight corruption,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted.

Castro’s husband Manuel Zelaya was deposed in a 2009 coup supported by the military, business elites and the political right.

On Sunday, she vowed to lead “a reconciliation government” in a country wracked by violent crime, drug trafficking, rampant corruption and large-scale migration to the United States.

Castro’s victory would break 12 years of PN rule and four decades of hegemony shared with the Liberal Party.

There have been no reports of violence related to Sunday’s vote, a far cry from the deadly protests that broke out when Juan Orlando Hernandez won a second successive term in a 2017 election that the opposition said was stolen. More than 30 people died as authorities cracked down on that month-long protest.

The European Union on Tuesday welcomed the “largely calm and peaceful atmosphere” of the latest election, though the run-up was marked by “unprecedented levels of political violence and intense polarization.”

An observer mission on the ground also noted “a number of deficiencies in the institutional management and preparation of the elections,” according to a statement from the office of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Vote counting has been slow, with the first half of ballots arriving at the National Electoral Council in digital format while the rest must be physically delivered.

The campaign was bitter, with the National Party trying to attach a “communist” label to Castro and attacking her support for legalizing abortion and same-sex marriage, touchy subjects in deeply conservative Honduras.

In turn, Castro branded Hernandez a “narco-dictator.”

Corruption and drug-trafficking scandals have engulfed Hernandez and many in his inner circle.

Meanwhile, Asfura was accused in 2020 of embezzling $700,000 of public money and the Pandora Papers — a trove of leaked documents exposing offshore accounts — linked him to influence peddling in Costa Rica.

Some 59 percent of Honduras’s 10 million people live in poverty.

Unemployment jumped from 5.7 percent in 2019 to 10.9 percent the following year, largely because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a study by the Autonomous University.

Washington has been keeping a close eye on the election, with Honduras the starting point for waves of migrant caravans trying to reach the United States.

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