Something new is happening in Honduras, but remains under the radar, given the storm raised by the Omicron variant. Namely that the oligarchy that holds power in this small Central American country, a major exporter of migrants fleeing violence and poverty to the United States, was masterfully scolded by the electorate during the presidential election of last Sunday.
With the result that a woman, and a woman of the left in addition, is for the first time at the gates of power in Tegucigalpa.
Hence an immediate question: will Xiomara Castro succeed where her husband, Manuel Zelaya, ousted from the presidency by a coup in 2009, failed? The handful of big families who pull the strings in the country will not make him quarters. To what extent will his government be able to accomplish gestures capable of pacifying a country in a state of perpetual crisis, a country that the United States today qualifies as a “narco-state” after having always treated it as a banana republic pure juice?
The victory of Mme Castro was “recognized” Tuesday by the business world before finally being recognized by his right-wing opponent, Nasry Asfura, runner-up to outgoing president Juan Orlando Hernández (known as “JOH”), in power for 12 years and deemed to be linked to drug traffickers by his brother imprisoned in the United States. At the latest news, the results indicated that after counting more than half of the votes, she had a substantial lead of 20 points (54% against 34%). Decisive victory, based on a so-called historic participation rate of 62%. Still, the vote count had been taking place since Monday in a trickle, necessarily raising fears of massive fraud as during the 2017 presidential election, at the end of which JOH was narrowly declared the winner, with brutal repression as a result of popular opposition demonstrations. A vote to which Canada, in the name of the interests of its mining industry, had also given its blessing.
Leaning on social movements at the same time as herself a member of theestablishment, Mme Castro therefore defends progressive positions, speaks of “Honduran democratic socialism” and, in this Catholic-conservative country, of partial decriminalization of abortion. She promised to create, in collaboration with the United Nations, an organization to fight against impunity on the model of the one that had been set up in Guatemala. Will she have the courage? Obviously, Mme Castro is a woman that the right will present as the puppet of her husband, who was elected in 2006 under the banner of a center-right party before turning left and moving closer to Venezuela.
The electoral campaign left some thirty dead among political actors, a sordid illustration of the climate of extreme violence that prevails in Honduras. In his “Travel advice” for Honduras, the Canadian government is certainly warning against COVID-19 and the new variant, but above all it urges Canadians to “avoid all non-essential travel” in a large part of this country “because of crime”.
However, the fact is that the situation would be less desperate if half of the unregistered firearms in Honduras were not the result of illegal trafficking, which originates from the United States, as is the case in El Salvador. and in Guatemala, the two other countries of the “northern triangle” also plagued by serious problems of democratic erosion. Heard – and Montrealers are beginning to be well placed to understand this – that the fight against crime depends in part on gun control in the United States.
The pandemic and climate change – with its vicious cycle of devastating hurricanes and prolonged droughts – are not helping. Three quarters of the ten million Hondurans are now believed to be living below the poverty line. Faced with COVID-19, the country’s inadequate health system is completely overwhelmed, while the vaccination rate, at less than 40%, is one of the lowest in Latin America. Here too, as elsewhere, a few short hours by plane from home, the imperative of vaccine equity and access to care arises.
This means at the same time, looking at the case of Honduras, that this issue of vaccine equity, which we have been talking about again intensively for a few days and which we are still waiting for it to be concretely applied, cannot not arise in a vacuum, independent of those of social justice, human security and democratic rights. Who wants a vaccine if it is only to starve?
What challenges await Mme Castro. But what progress will it make for Honduran society if the immense dissatisfaction expressed in the ballot box does not resonate beyond Mexico, to the United States and Canada?