Honduras’ ruling party admitted defeat in the presidential election held two days earlier, handing victory to left-wing opposition candidate Xiomara Castro and allaying fears of another contested vote and violent protests.
Tegucigalpa Mayor Nasry Asfura, the National Party’s presidential candidate, said in a statement that he had personally congratulated Castro, despite only counting about half of the votes in Sunday’s election.
The former first lady obtained 53% of the votes and Asfura 34%, with 52% of the counts counted, according to the National Electoral Council. You have 30 days from the election to declare a winner.
Asfura said he had met with Castro and his family.
“Now I want to say it publicly,” said the conservative candidate. “I congratulate her on her victory and as president-elect, I hope that God enlightens and guides her so that her administration does the best for the benefit of all. we Hondurans, to achieve development and the desire for democracy ”.
The Secretary of State of the United States, Antony Blinken, congratulated Castro minutes later.
“The United States congratulates the people of Honduras on their election and Xiomara Castro on her historic victory as the first female president of Honduras,” Blinken said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the next government of Honduras.”
Castro said via Twitter that Asfura had acknowledged his triumph. “People, I’m not going to let you down!”
Asfura’s recognition of the result was a relief to many Hondurans who feared a contested election after a debacle in 2017 sparked street protests that left 23 dead. After that vote, the government imposed a curfew and only three weeks later declared the now outgoing president Juan Orlando Hernández the winner, despite the fact that the observation mission of the Organization of American States called for a new election.
Fearing a similar protracted electoral confrontation and social unrest, many businesses in the Honduran capital had closed their windows for this election.
Mabel Plata, a 28-year-old nursing student, said she appreciated Asfura’s appreciation for the result. “It is a sign that he is a professional and educated person and he went to see Xiomara for the good of the country.”
Plata could not remember another who did the same. “Most always claim to be victorious and it is difficult for them to accept defeat.”
Luis Guillermo Solís, former president of Costa Rica and head of the observation mission of the Organization of American States, said Tuesday when presenting the preliminary report of the regional body that Hondurans had overcome some technical difficulties to vote in large numbers.
“Honduran society voted with conviction, joy and responsibility in a context marked by the pandemic and violence, which was timely denounced by the mission,” said Solís. He said the mission had received no reports of other irregularities or fraud.
Castro rode a wave of popular discontent with 12 years of National Party rule, which peaked in Hernández’s second term.
She will face great challenges as president of the Central American country. Unemployment is above 10%, northern Honduras was devastated by two major hurricanes last year and street gangs drag the economy with their scams of extortion and violence, driving migration to the United States.
On Tuesday, Vielka Yossira López folded jeans at a stall in Comayaguela’s sprawling street market.
The 24-year-old single mother of two said she did not vote but was hoping for a change.
“How am I going to miss a day of work to go to vote,” Lopez said. “I don’t work, I don’t eat.”
When López contracted COVID-19, he was unable to work for two months. At that time, he sold his bed, his refrigerator, television and cell phone in order to buy food and diapers for his 3 and 6 year old children.
López earns 200 lempiras, about $ 8.25 a day. She pays $ 1.60 of that just for transportation to and from work every day. Your 6-year-old son has been out of school for over a year.
López is hopeful that when Castro becomes president he will bring with him a better understanding of what it takes to start a family.
“Hopefully there is a change in having a woman,” Lopez said. “He has kids and everything.”
The Castro government could present challenges, but also opportunities for the Biden government, which has sought to keep Hernández at arm’s length.
Many Castro supporters recall the initial slowness of the United States government in calling the removal of Castro’s husband, Manuel Zelaya from the presidency in 2009, a coup, and then proceeded to work closely with the presidents of the National Party who they followed. And from the perspective of the United States, Washington remembers how Castro and Zelaya felt affectionate towards the then president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez.
Analysts say there is common ground between Castro and the US government in at least three areas: immigration, drug trafficking and corruption. And with the tense relations that prevail between Washington and the leaders of El Salvador and Guatemala, the US government could use a productive relationship with Honduras.
Despite the efforts of opponents to paint Castro as a communist, experts hope that she will rule as a centrist with a desire to lift up the poor of Honduras while attracting foreign investment.
A speech Castro delivered to his Libertad y Refundación party in June remains one of his clearest expressions of how he will navigate the relationship with the United States.
“In the first 100 days, we will execute and propose to the administration of President Joe Biden and Kamala Harris a plan to combat and address the true causes of migration,” Castro said.
Castro describes the emigration of Hondurans in terms of flight to escape inequality, corruption, poverty and violence. That sounds a lot like Harris’s assessment of root causes the Biden administration wants to focus US aid on.
But Castro also partly blames the US government.
“I think the Biden administration has a tremendous opportunity to address the issue of migration,” Castro said in the June speech. “First, recognizing that they bear part of the responsibility for what happens in our country,” he added, pointing to the 2009 coup.
Castro has criticized the outgoing Hernández administration for corruption. It was the Hernández administration that let the Organization of American States’ anti-corruption mission in Honduras expire in 2020 after its work touched some of the National Party lawmakers for alleged misuse of public funds.
She has said that she is interested in having an international anti-corruption mission return to Honduras. That, combined with a strong and independent attorney general, could begin to address one of the country’s deepest problems.
US federal prosecutors have put corruption under the microscope in drug trafficking cases that have reached high-ranking Honduran politicians. Most notable was the conviction of Hernández’s brother, a former federal legislator, on drug trafficking charges that earned him a life sentence in the United States.
In a speech Sunday night, Castro told supporters: “Out of the war! Out of hatred! Out of death squads! Out of corruption! Out of drug trafficking and organized crime!”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism