Tegucigalpa, Honduras – When the first female president of Honduras’ Xiomara Castro on January 27, she will face a number of challenging challenges: repairing the country’s battered democratic institutions, tackling widespread corruption, and repairing the crises caused by COVID’s 19 and last year’s devastating hurricanes.
“We need to understand that she’s receiving a land that has been totally destroyed, and digging it out of this hole is not going to be an easy job,” Honduran researcher and activist Leonardo Pineda told Al Jazeera.
But a majority of Hondurans believe she is up to the task. With about 86 percent of the vote counted on December 6, Castro, of the left-wing Libre Party, won more than half of the vote, with a lead of 14 points over her closest opponent – gives her a strong mandate to make the drastic changes that many Hondurans want to see.
“We believed she could pull us out of a land that was divided and destroyed,” Victor Carbajal, a 34-year-old Castro supporter, told Al Jazeera during a rally to celebrate her victory in Tegucigalpa, the capital.
In the 12 years since at 2009 coup Castro’s husband, Manuel Zelaya, removed from office, successive conservative governments destroyed social programs, increased militarization and launched a systematic attack on human rights and the environment.
Under the current president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, Honduran many fled to the United States in the midst of devastating poverty, violence and disasters fueled by climate change – everything contributes to a feeling of hopelessness, especially among the country’s youth.
Allegations that the ruling National Party helped drug dealers and looted public funds further exacerbated public frustrations, which propelled Castro to the presidency.
“The election shows the need for the current government to leave and for us to begin a process of rebuilding the country,” Julio Raudales, an economist at the National Autonomous University of Honduras, told Al Jazeera.
It’s clear that Honduras wants change – but just how to achieve it will be Castro’s challenge.
‘Government of Reconciliation’
In her inaugural address late last month, Castro promised to “form a government of reconciliation” and to “guarantee a participatory and direct democracy”.
Cabinet appointments will be a key indicator of her direction for the government, Pineda said, noting that it will be important to see if she chooses ministers based on qualifications above party interests. The composition of the Congress, which has yet to be finalized, will also determine her success, he added.
Projections based on a preliminary score predict that the Libre Party will have the most congressional seats, but will must have an alliance with other opposition parties to achieve a simple majority, which could make it harder to govern, Pineda said. And it will only be in 2023 that the government can appoint new Supreme Court justices and a new Attorney General.
“She’s not going to be able to rule with free rein,” Pineda said, noting that it could benefit Castro to pick up some easy victories at the outset, such as setting up a United Nations-backed anti-corruption commission in Honduras, such as she promised. the campaign trail. A similar commission worked in Honduras from 2016 to 2020, when the government decided not to renew its mandate after its investigations began threatening powerful allies.
But the UN may be reluctant to invest resources in an anti-corruption committee that could be terminated if the political will fades, said Carlos Hernandez, director of the Honduran NGO Association for a More Just Society.
“This should be an effort where there is participation, not just from the government,” he told Al Jazeera. “It must be built with other sectors so that there is sustainability.”
Express a strategy
Castro will also need to improve conditions for average Hondurans when it comes to poverty, gender-based violence and the crumbling healthcare system. About half of the population lived on less than $ 5.50 a day in 2019, according to the World Bank, and conditions only worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic, as the economy shrank by an estimated 9 percent.
Castro has promised to increase spending on health care and improve access to education.
On the health care front, nurse Christopher Rodriguez, 27, said he hopes the new government will ensure all hospitals have basic supplies. “This government’s handling of the health system and its budget for the COVID-19 emergency has left us with a bad taste in our mouths,” he told Al Jazeera. “We hope so [Castro] has a better way of handling things and keeps her promises. ”
On women’s rights, Castro has vowed to ease the country’s strict ban on abortions and to pass legislation addressing gender-based violence.
Honduras, which has the highest rate of homicide in the region, needs a “coordinated strategy, set out among the various powers of the state, for the prevention, attention, sanction and recovery” of gender-based violence, Regina Fonseca, director of the Center for Women’s rights, told Al Jazeera. She expressed optimism that Castro would work towards this goal.
In addition, if Castro can address the issues facing the country’s youth, her actions could have an impact on the U.S. border, Pineda said: “If a youth in Honduras has a place to study, and “When they graduate, they have a decent job. A good salary, why do they leave?”
With widespread support across the country, analysts predict that Castro will have at least a few months of goodwill before citizens start begging for faster results. “Hondurans have given another chance to democracy,” Raudales said. “But everything has a limitation.”