Honduras’ new president sworn in amid congressional impasse

Jan 26, 2022, 10:00 PM | Updated: Jan 27, 2022, 10:39 pm
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, right, attends the inauguration of Honduras' first female Presid...

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, right, attends the inauguration of Honduras' first female President Xiomara Castro at the National stadium in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

(AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Hondurans saw Xiomara Castro sworn in as their country’s first female president Thursday amid a sea of waving flags in the national stadium.

Castro blasted the outgoing administration for leaving her a heavily indebted country where poverty and a lack of opportunity have driven hundreds of thousands of Hondurans to migrate in recent years.

“My government will not continue the vortex that has condemned generations of young people to pay the debt taken on behind their backs,” Castro said.

“We have the duty to restore the economic sector on the basis of transparency, efficiency, production, social justice, wealth distribution and national revenue,” she said.

The 62-year-old Castro faces high expectations to turn around the deeply troubled country amid uncertainty about whether an unfolding legislative crisis will allow her the support she needs.

Relatively smooth elections and a healthy margin of victory Nov. 28 came as a relief, but political maneuvering in the run-up to Castro’s inauguration has muddled the outlook and distracted from what was to be a hopeful new beginning after the two terms of President Juan Orlando Hernández.

Honduras has been engulfed by a dispute over who will lead the newly elected Congress. Two congressional leadership teams have been selected — neither legitimately according to experts — and their standoff threatens legislative paralysis at a time that Castro desperately needs to quickly get to work addressing Honduras’ problems.

Elected lawmakers from Castro’s own Liberty and Refoundation Party backed one of their own to be the new legislative body’s president Friday rather than support Castro’s choice, which had been agreed with her vice president to win his party’s support. Neither group backed down leading to surreal simultaneous legislative sessions Tuesday.

High unemployment, persistent violence, corruption as well as troubled health care and educational systems are just some of the pressing challenges awaiting Castro.

The United States government, seeing an opportunity to gain an ally in a region with few friends, has strongly backed Castro and stands ready to provide support. In a possible sign of tensions in the region, presidents from neighbors El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua were not scheduled to attend.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who was given the task of addressing the challenge of Central American migration, met with Castro shortly after the inauguration ceremony.

The two discussed “the root causes of migration, combatting corruption and expanding economic opportunity,” according to a statement from Harris’ office.

“Vice President Harris welcomed President Castro’s focus on countering corruption and impunity, including her intent to request the assistance of the United Nations in establishing an international anti-corruption commission and commitment to advancing necessary legislative reforms to enable such a commission to succeed,” the statement said.

Washington sees areas for cooperation on Castro’s priorities of battling corruption and increasing economic opportunities in her country, two areas that could affect decisions by Hondurans on whether to stay or try to migrate to the United States.

Jason Marczak, senior director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council, said, “Honduras has been a very difficult partner for the United States, especially during the administration of Juan Orlando Hernandez for a number of reasons, including the consistent swirl of illegal activity around him and his family.”

“The anti-corruption agenda being front and center and her (Castro’s) pledges is music to the ears of the Biden-Harris administration, given its focus on rooting out corruption not only in Central America but its global efforts on corruption,” he said.

Castro said again Thursday she plans to formally invite the United Nations to set up an anti-corruption mission in Honduras.

That would be welcome by Hondurans like 22-year-old José Manuel Suazo, who waited for Castro’s appearance inside the stadium. He said he voted for Castro, and believes many other young people did too, because he wants her to attack corruption and end impunity.

Castro won on her third bid for the presidency. She was previously first lady during the presidency of her husband, Manuel Zelaya, which was cut short by a military coup in 2009.

On Thursday, just hours before her inauguration, Castro announced her cabinet picks via Twitter. There were two women out of 16 announced positions. Her son Hector Zelaya, will be her private secretary and Manuel Zelaya’s nephew, José Manuel Zelaya, is her choice for defense secretary.

Ramón Sabillón, a former National Police chief, who recently returned after years living in exile in the United States, was her pick for security minister.

In her speech, Castro gave him a lengthy to-do list including guaranteeing “citizen security, no more death squads, no more silence on femicides, no more hired killers, no more drug trafficking, no more organized crime.”

Many voters this time said they were motivated above all by the possibility of removing Hernández’s National Party from power. Hernández was first elected in 2013 and a friendly Supreme Court allowed him to overcome a constitutional ban on re-election and run again in 2017 in an election plagued by irregularities.

Federal prosecutors in New York have repeatedly spoken of Hernández’s purported ties to drug trafficking, alleging his political rise was funded in part by drug profits. Hernández has not been formally charged and has repeatedly denied the accusations.

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Norma Torres said in a statement she had asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to see that Hernández was indicted and extradited to the U.S.

“President Hernandez has been a central figure in undermining the rule of law in his own country and in protecting and assisting drug traffickers to move their materials through Honduras and to the United States,” Torres said. “He has been repeatedly identified as a co-conspirator in other drug trafficking cases and has caused incredible pain to both the people of Honduras and the United States. I believe it is essential that the United States hold him accountable for his criminal behavior.”

On Thursday afternoon, Hernández was sworn in as a representative of Honduras to the Central American Parliament, a traditional transition for Central American ex-presidents that affords them immunity from prosecution.

Guatemalan representative on the regional body, Amilcar Pop, confirmed Hernández’s swearing in, but said he withdrew from the virtual session because “I am against his swearing in, that he’s given immunity.”

On Thursday, 48-year-old Carlos Hernández lugged a nearly life-size Castro pinata through the streets near the stadium before the inauguration.

“This is now or never,” Hernández said. “I do this out of conviction, we want our president to not fail us.”

He and his family came because he wanted Castro to feel she had the support of the people. “I had never even voted, but I was sick and tired of the National (party).”

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              U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, right, attends the inauguration of Honduras' first female President Xiomara Castro at the National stadium in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              Argentina's Vice President Cristina Fernandez, a former president and first lady, waits for the inauguration of Honduras' first female President Xiomara Castro at the National stadium in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              President Xiomara Castro smiles as she receives the presidential sash, and her husband former President Manuel Zelaya who was ousted by a military coup in 2009, right, applauds during her inauguration as the first female president in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              A ceremonial guard awaits Vice President Kamala Harris's arrival in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
            
              Vice President Kamala Harris walks off a helicopter in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
            
              President-elect Xiomara Castro arrives for her inauguration as Honduras' first female president in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. Castro won on her third bid for the presidency. She was previously first lady during the presidency of her husband, Manuel Zelaya, which was cut short by a military coup in 2009. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              People wait in the National Stadium for the inauguration of President-elect Xiomara Castro, the first female president in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted by a military coup in 2009, greets supporters of his wife, President-elect Xiomara Castro, as they arrive to the National Stadium for her inauguration ceremony, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. Castro was sworn in as the country’s first female president Thursday. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              President-elect Xiomara Castro arrives with her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya who was ousted by a military coup, for Castro's inauguration as the first female president in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              People wait in the National Stadium for the inauguration of President-elect Xiomara Castro, the first female president in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              President-elect Xiomara Castro arrives for her inauguration as Honduras' first female president in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              Supporters of President-elect Xiomara Castro hold up photos of people who have died since the military coup that ousted her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, as they wait for Castro's inauguration as the first female president in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              Former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted by a military coup in 2009, hugs his wife President-elect Xiomara Castro as they arrive for her inauguration as Honduras' first female president in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              Honduran President Xiomara Castro and Vice President Kamala Harris walk through the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
            
              Honduras' Congressional President Luis Redondo raises his fist during the inauguration of President Xiomara Castro, the country's first female president, at the National stadium in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              President Xiomara Castro greets supporters during her inauguration as Honduras' first female president at the National stadium in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              President-elect Xiomara Castro arrives with her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya who was ousted by a military coup, for Castro's inauguration as the first female president in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              Xiomara Castro is sworn-in as Honduras' first female president at the National stadium in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              People wait in the National Stadium for the inauguration of President-elect Xiomara Castro, the first female president in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              Supporters of President-elect Xiomara Castro hold up photos of people who have died since the military coup that ousted her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, as they wait for Castro's inauguration as the first female president in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              People wait in the National Stadium for the inauguration of President-elect Xiomara Castro, the first female president in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              People wait in the National Stadium for the inauguration of President-elect Xiomara Castro, the first female president in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              Supporters of President-elect Xiomara Castro hold up photos of people who have died since the military coup that ousted her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, as they wait for Castro's inauguration as the first female president in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              People wait in the National Stadium for the inauguration of President-elect Xiomara Castro, the first female president in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              Vendor Oscar Prado poses for a photo as he hawks flags promoting President-elect Xiomara Castro outside the National Stadium in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. Castro, Honduras' first female president, is scheduled to be sworn in during a ceremony at the stadium on Thursday, Jan. 27. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              A national flag and a political banner of the Liberty and Refoundation Party, better known as Libre, are clipped to the base of a tower near the National Stadium in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. President-elect Xiomara Castro of the Libre party and Honduras' first female president, is scheduled to be sworn in during a ceremony at the stadium on Thursday, Jan. 27. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              Workers clean the main entrance of Congress being occupied by supporters loyal to President-elect Xiomara Castro in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. The new president's supporters say they want to block opposition attempts to take over leadership of Congress, which could threaten her ability to govern after she is sworn in Jan. 27. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              Troupe members, who will perform at the presidential inauguration, arrive at the National Stadium for rehearsal in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. President-elect Xiomara Castro, Honduras' first female president, is scheduled to be sworn in during a ceremony at the stadium on Thursday, Jan. 27. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              Honduras' President-elect Xiomara Castro, center, arrives for a meeting with Spain's King Felipe VI in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. Castro, Honduras' first female president, is scheduled to be sworn in on Thursday, Jan. 27. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              A banner promoting President-elect Xiomara Castro hangs on a wall at the National Stadium in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. Castro, Honduras' first female president, is scheduled to be sworn in during a ceremony at the stadium on Thursday, Jan. 27. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
            
              Vendor Oscar Prado hawks flags promoting President-elect Xiomara Castro outside the National Stadium in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. Castro, Honduras' first female president, is scheduled to be sworn in on Thursday, Jan. 27. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

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Honduras’ new president sworn in amid congressional impasse