Castro’s Victory Spells End Of US-Backed ‘Narco-Politics, Neoliberalism’

Above Photo: Jose Bezas / Reuters.

Xiomara Castro, the presidential candidate for the leftist opposition party Libre, seems to have won a resounding victory in Honduras’ presidential elections.

Her victory comes in spite of attempts by the ruling National Party, which overthrew her husband, Manuel Zelaya, in 2009, to stifle voter turnout, as one Sputnik journalist observed.

Castro’s victory is just the latest in a year of leftist victories in Latin America, including Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Pedro Castillo in Peru, and Luis Arce in Bolivia, all of which represent significant setbacks for the US’ agenda in the region.

“There will be no more abuse of power in this country,” Castro said in an unofficial victory speech on Sunday. “Today, the people have made justice. We have reversed authoritarianism.”

With 40% of votes counted, she held a commanding lead of 53.3% over her chief rival, National Party candidate Nasry Asfura, who Sputnik News journalist Wyatt Reed described as the “handpicked successor to Juan Orlando Hernandez,” the right-wing president whose two election victories were widely marred by fraud.

On Sunday night, Asfura had just 34% of the votes, and on Tuesday afternoon, he officially conceded the results, making Castro the unquestioned victor.

However, while Asfura had personally pledged to await the results and respect them, members of his party were observed obstructing the voting process, only further fanning fears of a repeat of Hernandez’s 2017 election victory, which were marred by fraud and followed by massive protests that were violently repressed, resulting in the deaths of more than 40 protesters by police gunfire and more than 1,600 arrested.

Reed told Radio Sputnik’s Fault Lines on Tuesday that he witnessed at least one major case of voter intimidation in which police looked the other way as National Party figures unofficially shut down a voting station in the capital city of Tegucigalpa.

“In terms of what this election looked like, there were some pretty clear efforts to interfere, to suppress the vote of the Libre Party and the Liberal Party by the National Party. I myself witnessed some extremely egregious efforts – one in particular at the Republic of Panama School in the colonial Buenos Aires district here in Tegucigalpa,” he told hosts Jamarl Thomas and Shane Stranahan.

“I witnessed efforts to close the entire voting station, refusal by the man working the gates, who was a National Party member, he was refusing to allow anybody to enter other than a couple people who he seemed to be hand-selecting,” Reed said.

“This man was doing so within 5 to 10 feet of a handful of police officers and a crowd of hundreds of people was outside growing angry that they were refusing to allow them to exercise their right to vote. They didn’t really intervene in the situation at all until I very loudly questioned the police and asked them whether they were going to intervene to allow these people the right to vote,” he added.

“The National Electoral Council issued a statement on Sunday very clearly stating that everyone who is in line prior to the closure of the polls must be allowed to vote. This was not a decision that was being respected by a number of National Party members at a number of polling stations, although I think it’s worth adding that for all the irregularities and efforts to suppress the vote that we did witness nothing that would be statistically significant enough to shift the election in one direction or another, especially not a massive 20% lead like what we’re seeing,” Reed explained.

Building ‘Justice’ in a Neoliberal Playground

Reed said that with Castro’s victory, Hernandez must be “sweating bullets right now” over fears he might soon have to “face the music” for his turning Honduras into a de facto narco state.

“Hondurans have known that Juan Orlando Hernandez is linked to the drug trade in a pretty serious way for a long time. The DEA [US Drug Enforcement Agency] investigation into Juan Orlando Hernandez is kind of the tip of the iceberg, they didn’t really need the DEA investigation for them to kind of know what the deal is here. It certainly doesn’t help the National Party, who has this reputation of effectively being run by drug dealers, high level sort of cartel types.”

“That perception contributes greatly to the massive sort of loss that we’re witnessing by the National Party because it’s impossible to separate that from the 12 years of crime, poverty, unemployment, the highest murder rate in the world. All these figures have really been making Honduras incredibly inhospitable for young people and make it so that pretty much everyone you come across has someone in their family that’s been forced to flee to try to make it to the United States.”

“And that’s why so much of the economy now is just remittances, it’s just people sending money back to their families and loved ones because all of this sort of criminality and drug dealing that a sort of official state drug dealing is – it’s impossible to separate that from the economic realities that so many Hondurans have to endure currently and it’s part of the reason for sure that Xiomara Castro will, barring any otherwise unforeseeable kind of electoral shenanigans, will almost certainly become the next president of Honduras.”

Indeed, an estimated 1% of the 8-million-strong Honduran population attempted to enter the United States as refugees in 2019, the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Los Angeles Times. An oversized portion of those seeking refuge have been LGBTIQ people, who have been targets of lethal violence by gangs as well as police, and been severely socially ostracized, resulting in the world’s highest murder rate of transgender women.

Earlier this year, the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the Honduran state responsible for the 2009 murder of Vicky Hernandez, a trans woman and activist who was shot in the head during the curfew that immediately followed Zelaya’s overthrow.

Several LGBTIQ groups also participated in election monitoring to ensure that LGBTIQ people were not discriminated against by voting authorities. According to the Washington Blade, many such incidents were reported.

JLo Córdova, director of the Collective of Trans Women Dolls of Arcoíris, told the paper that when she attempting to vote “like every citizen of this country,” she “received discrimination because of my gender expression and I went out in the corridors until my legal name” was called.

“The members of the tables must be trained with the people who demand rights,” she added. Despite the widespread bigotry and marginalization, discrimination against people due to their sexual orientation or gender identity was banned in Honduras in 2013.

Reed said that the imminent opening of relations with China, one of Castro’s big political promises, would “allow for significant investment and economic development” alongside the shredding of the Special Economic Zones, which facilitated the foreign direct investment-driven exploitation of low wage maquila workers in factories geared toward exporting cheap goods to the United States.

Citing a senior adviser to Castro, Reuters reported on Tuesday that she would seek to negotiate a new debt deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but is opposed to raising existing taxes or creating new ones.

Other changes expected include a greatly improved social welfare system, the ending of anti-abortion laws, the re-establishment of relations with Venezuela, and the disbandment of the military police. Reed added that it would be an end to the “impunity that the National Party has enjoyed.”

“Justice. This is what she was talking about in her victory speech Sunday night,” Reed said. “Basically, an end to the status quo of 12 years of death and destruction by narco-politics and neoliberalism.”