On the eve of Xiomara Castro’s inauguration as Honduras’ new president, concern was on the rise among her supporters that a worsening legislative crisis could derail her campaign promises and their hope for a better future.
President-elect Castro, the country’s first female leader, is scheduled to be sworn in at midday on Thursday, ending a dozen years of governments that oversaw worsening poverty and increasing outward migration, while being accused of corruption and ties to drug traffickers.
Pressure has been growing to find a way out of a political impasse that resulted in two rival congressional leadership teams.
Seventy-two-year-old Jose Ricardo Garay travelled to the capital from his home in northwestern Honduras to witness his first inauguration, saying he was eager to see the exit of President Juan Orlando Hernandez.
“That man bothers me,” he said as he ate a tortilla filled with beans in front of the Congress on Wednesday. Garay was also unsettled by the divided Congress — the two leadership teams held simultaneous but separate sessions Tuesday — and echoed Castro that the split “was a betrayal”.
The rising concerns come after several newly elected lawmakers from Castro’s left-wing Libre party defected on Friday and elected their own congressional leader, Jorge Calix. They rejected Castro’s choice, Luis Redondo, a selection rooted in the political alliance that helped her win the election in November.
Castro called the move a “betrayal”, and said that her party had expelled the 18 lawmakers who defected. The dispute triggered chaotic scenes in Congress, prompting the United States embassy in Honduras to call for calm and dialogue.
The Latin America Working Group (LAWG), a US-based, non-profit group, said Castro is likely to face “forces of corruption” and organised crime that have infiltrated government structures as well as parts of the private sector.
“The U.S. government should work with the incoming President to fulfill her promises to end corruption and to improve the lives of Honduran citizens,” Lisa Haugaard, LAWG’s co-director, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The Biden Administration must work closely with diverse sectors of civil society in Honduras to address the root causes of forced migration, improve the lives of the most vulnerable, and to expand the space available to Honduran citizens to exercise their rights,” she said.
US Vice President Kamala Harris is set to attend Castro’s inauguration, in a show of US support, and as an effort to find a partner in her task of finding the “root causes” of migration to the US.
Helen Euceda, a 39-year-old doctor on her way to work, said it is critical that the new government focus its attention immediately on “the health and education of the people”.
“With (Castro) in government, it is an opportunity for women, who are capable of taking on problems,” Euceda said. “It won’t be short-term, but there is an opportunity to show the ability and gender inclusion.”
Meanwhile, critics say that neither of the leadership teams was chosen or installed legally and Tiziano Breda, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, said that a quick political solution was urgently needed.
“Politically, you run the risk of provoking a legislative paralysis, where the initiatives approved by Calix are vetoed by the president or not even considered, while Redondo’s team doesn’t have the necessary votes in Congress or lacks legality,” he said.
Breda feared the crisis could extend to a third branch of the Honduran government if the dispute lands before the Supreme Court, which is viewed as friendly to the outgoing National Party of Hernandez and therefore distrusted by Hondurans who backed Castro.
The risk is that the continued uncertainty could deter badly needed international investments in Honduras, Breda said.
“At a social level, the resentment and exhaustion that drove the majority of Hondurans to vote for a change in November would be fed if they see the political class continues to be tangling up power struggles and individual interests instead of taking on the country’s urgent issues,” Breda said. “This could translate to more social turbulence and growing migration.”
That international support will be critical to Castro’s ability to begin reforming a country suffering from soaring unemployment and high rates of violence, two of the many factors that have driven Hondurans to flee the country in recent years.
According to data collected by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), more than 319,000 Hondurans were apprehended along the US-Mexico border during the fiscal year 2021 — more than any other nationality.