Tegucigalpa, Honduras — Thousands of jubilant voters have been flooding the streets of cities across Honduras to celebrate the apparent electoral victory of leftist presidential candidate Xiomara Castro, who now has an overwhelming lead in the nation’s ongoing vote count.
Castro, who is part of the leftist Libre Party, is in position to become the first woman president of Honduras, and the overwhelming show of support for her candidacy is a repudiation of the conservative forces that — with backing from the U.S. government — carried out a coup in 2009 and seized power from democratically elected leftist President Manuel Zelaya, who is Castro’s husband.
On Sunday night in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, the sounds of the caravans of Castro’s Libre Party supporters filled the air as they drove around the capital, waving the red flag of their party, blaring their horns and shooting off firecrackers.
Hondurans across the country are celebrating the end of the Juan Orlando Hernández regime and marking the beginning of a new democratic era in the country.
The National Electoral Council reported a 68 per cent voter turnout. This is an increase over previous elections. Voters started celebrating based upon preliminary results from the electoral authority, which showed Castro with a commanding victory. lead over the National Party’s Nasry “Tito” Asfura. The preliminary results show Castro has won 53.61% of the vote, compared to Asfura who received 33.87%. Third place went to Yani Rosenthal, a Liberal Party candidate at 9.21 percent.
“[Castro] is a righteous woman, a decent woman, a woman who is concerned for the well-being of Honduras, not just a select group of people, but the entirety of the Honduras people,” Erodito Vásquez, a Libre Party voter in the Suyapa neighborhood of Tegucigalpa, told Truthout.
Voters’ expectations of her new government are extremely high. On top of restoring institutional legitimacy after eight years of rule by the scandal-plagued Hernández, there are a number of issues that social movements have been struggling around, such as conflicts over extractive projects and special economic zones, reproductive rights and freedom for political prisoners still languishing in jails, and activists expect the Castro government to act quickly on these issues. She has committed to reversing 12 years of neoliberal economic policy and tackling corruption and impunity, as well as loosening the country’s strict abortion laws.
Although Juan Orlando Hernández was not on the ballot in this election, his National Party administration was the central issue of the electoral contest. Hernández was first elected in 2013, replacing Porfirio Lobo Sosa, also of the National Party, who came to power after the 2009 military coup that ousted the leftist former President Zelaya.
As Zelaya’s spouse, Castro was thrust into the political spotlight after Zelaya was whisked away in the middle of the night by the armed forces to nearby Costa Rica. She became one of the most visible faces of the anti-coup resistance that sprang up in response to the rupture in the country’s constitutional order. Despite months of street protests, the coup was held together by violent repression and the efforts former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. backedLobo was elected to the presidency in a vote that was held less than five months after the coup. However, Lobo’s election was held despite widespread condemnation for the conditions in post-coup Honduras which made it impossible to have a free or fair vote.
The National Front of Popular Resistance, which was established in the aftermath of the 2009 coup, eventually formed Freedom and Refoundation, or LIBRE as its Spanish acronym. The leftist party contested the 2013 election with Castro as its candidate, losing to Juan Orlando Hernández.
Libre formed an alliance with Anti-Corruption Party in 2017 to support Salvador Nasralla as its candidate. There were many allegations of fraud in that election. Even the Organization of American States called for new elections due to the unexplained jump in Hernández’s votes, which put him ahead of Nasralla despite the latter originally holding a 5-point lead in the preliminary report by electoral authorities. The Hernández regime brutally put down protests that were organized against the fraudulent result, succeeding in remaining in power and consolidating Hernández’s grip on the country.
The election in 2021 will be influenced by the events of the 2009 coup attempt and the 2017 fraud. Despite the Libre Party being the leader in polls there were fears that the National Party would win the election. To avoid a repeat of 2017’s fraudulent election, the Libre Party pushed to reform the electoral system. This included the creation of the National Electoral Council and the purging voter rolls.
The National Party is widely regarded in Honduras as a highly efficient political machine. It also engaged in extensive efforts to secure support by undemocratic means. The party has been at the helm for 12 years and has developed a clientelist base. In this election, it mobilized state resources in order to win support from voters.
Election observers in Honduras reported that they had observed several changes. irregularities on The day of the election. Global Exchange, an international organization for human rights, organized a delegation consisting of more than 250 Hondurans and 40 observers from around the world to monitor the election with the Honduran Centre for Democracy Studies (CESPAD, as its Spanish acronym).
CESPAD observers said that they witnessed long lines at polling centres during a press conference. efforts by National Party activistsStanding outside polls to influence voters.
A mood for change
“Regrettably, that is the kind of democracy that we have in Honduras,” Juana Elizabeth Portillo, a member of the Libre Party, told Truthout.
However, the fraudulent actions of National Party regime backers were not enough to alter the outcome. Castro’s landslide victory benefited from an overwhelming mood for change in Honduras, rendering efforts to steal the election moot.
“It is an unfair fight, but we know the people and God will carry out justice because we are tired of 12 years of narco-dictatorship,” said Portillo, referencing the credible allegations of Hernandez’s tiesTo organized crime
Portillo argued that the Honduran population was “exhausted” with the National Party.
“They have seen the atrocities, the theft, the embezzlement in the state’s organizations and institutions … Juan Orlando transformed the state into a narco-state,” she said.
Jonny Pavón, a fruit vendor in the Alameda neighborhood in the capital, said it was not the country’s fault that conditions for working-class people were so hard, but the fault of those who had governed.
“What the Honduran people want is change, a total change, and that they do something for the people,” Pavón told TruthoutBefore the day of voting.
Pavón stressed that most Hondurans, like him, live day-to-day, and that previous governments had been governing in favor of an elite and not those like him.
“We are going to elect transparent people here who govern in favor of the country and the people,” he said.
Carlos Roberto Ucles Palada, who works as the caretaker at the Archbishop Jacobo Cáceres School in the working-class area of Suyapa in Tegucigalpa and a resident of the area for his entire life, said his neighbors were all interested in ousting the National Party.
“People realized that in eight years they did not give us anything until recently, distributing our own money back to us,” Ucles told Truthout.
Ucles says that vote-buying tactics might have worked previously, but in this election the people had “wised up.”
“I’m going to vote for the candidate that suits me better…. We won’t be played the fool anymore,” he said.
Victory after Decades of Struggle
“Honduras no longer just resists, Honduras no longer is afraid,” said Carla Garcia, a Honduran GarifunaNew York woman who was visiting the country to be an election observer.
Asked what he felt when the results came in, Gustavo Irías, executive director at CESPAD and a longtime leftist political leader in Honduras, said it was an “indescribable emotion” and the product of “decades of struggle.”
Irías told Truthout that Sunday’s result meant that those years of struggle were not in vain.
The wide margin of victory of Castro over her nearest rival makes a scenario like the one that played out after the 2017 election unlikely, but the country’s fragile institutions mean there is still risk of a fraud.
“Democracy remains very fragile in Honduras,” said Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-Director Mark Weisbrot in a press release.
“This is a country that saw the military kidnap the president at gunpoint and fly him out of the country just 12 years ago, and there was very strong evidence that the elections of four years ago were stolen.”
Irías expects that social movements will find that the new Castro government will be easier to work with than previous regimes.
“We will keep fighting but in a more favorable context, a context that we hope will be less dangerous, where we will be less afraid, where we will be driven by the hope that it is possible to build a different society,” said Irías.
U.S. Department of State Principal Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter made a tepid statement Monday about the election, congratulating “the Honduran people for the high turnout as well as the active civil society participation in the election.”
Relations between Washington and Tegucigalpa in a Castro government will be complicated with the lingering memories of U.S. support of the 2009 coup as well as the U.S. role in sustaining Hernandez in power.
However, with Hondurans representing the largest nationality crossing the southern U.S. border seeking asylum and U.S. President Joe Biden’s stated commitment to addressing the flow of migration from Central America, Washington will likely be forced to accommodate itself to the new government in Honduras.