In Sunday’s elections, Xiomara Castro could end bipartisanship in Honduras
By Gustavo Palencia
TEGUCIGALPA – Left-wing Honduran presidential candidate Xiomara Castro rose to prominence in politics when her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, was ousted in a military coup in 2009.
Abandoning the traditional role of the president’s wife, she rose to the challenge and led a massive protest movement, honing her public personality in speeches to thousands of supporters.
If the movement did not achieve the goal of reinstating her husband, it created the Liberté et Refondation (Libre) party, which now puts her within reach of the presidency.
As a favorite in opinion polls, she could end a long period of bipartisan rule in Honduras, which has been ruled by the National Party and the Liberal Party for more than 100 years. She would also be the first woman to be President of Honduras.
In 2013, Castro lost his first presidential candidacy to incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party, running on a platform far to the left of the Liberal Party candidate.
“I firmly believe that the democratic socialism that I am proposing is the solution to lift Honduras out of the abyss in which we have been buried by neoliberalism, a narco-dictator and corruption,” Castro said in a campaign speech.
President Juan Orlando Hernandez of the ruling National Party has been accused of involvement in drug trafficking, which he has repeatedly denied.
The second of five children from a middle-class family, Castro was born in 1959 in Tegucigalpa. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in business administration and then moved to the northeast of the capital where she raised four children with Zelaya.
By promoting “democratic socialism,” Castro wants to decriminalize abortion, reduce bank fees for remittances, create a UN-backed anti-corruption commission and repeal a new law that she says fuels corruption and drug traffic.
Despite political similarities, Zelaya did not play a big role in his wife’s campaign like he did in 2013.
“Ex-president Zelaya knows that as the party’s coordinator, he has a respectful relationship with the president,” said the historian and long-time friend of candidate Anarella Velez.
Velez added that Castro’s strong personality would allow him to firmly maintain control of the government.
When Zelaya was president, Castro was particularly active in policymaking and lobbied for social programs and grants for poor children, women and the elderly, which helped boost her popularity.
She has also managed agricultural and forestry companies in the private sector.
The National Party, which has been plagued by corruption scandals, has sought to bait Castro in order to stay in power.
“A vote for Xiomara is a vote for communism, socialism, chaos, hunger, violence, repression, abortion, poverty,” an attack announcement from the National Party said on television and on social networks.
Yet while Castro’s Free Party is part of the Sao Paolo Forum, an organization with the goal of reimagining the Latin American left after the fall of the Berlin Wall, many doubt Castro will adopt radical policies.
“We could see rapprochements with governments that preach 19th century socialism, but it will be more of a formality than anything else,” said political scientist Raul Pineda.
“Honduras depends on trade with the United States and it is so weak that it cannot even survive a month of economic isolation from Washington.”