Xiomara Castro, the first woman to become president of Honduras and wife of former president José Manuel Zelaya, ousted in 2009, is already a historical icon of the country, as she is a woman. The question is whether she will go down in history only due to the condition of being a woman. The fact is that, within the pro-government political forces, after the first year of government, complaints are heard considering that “a historic opportunity is being lost”.
The questioning began shortly after the beginning of the mandate when only a few of the most relevant positions were occupied by those who fought for twelve years to return to political-institutional power. “A minister, considered a comrade of struggles, has been surrounded by inept opportunists, last minute careerists, and it is the fault of none other than Mel (José Manuel Zelaya)”, commented an old militant, ex-liberal, who accompanied him after his overthrow.
Throughout this first year of the left in government, José Manuel Zelaya has spared no effort to show who is in charge, although without explicitly saying so. As soon as his wife’s term began, the former president set up an office in the Presidential House as coordinator of the Libre Party, something prohibited by the Constitution. And later he even presided over a cabinet meeting, without being a member of the government.
On the other hand, the controversial Salvador Nasralla, the first presidential appointee, did not take long to reveal his other face: incoherent, egocentric, capricious, and unpredictable. Almost from the beginning of the Government, he placed himself in the role of victim and even coincided with the positions of the opposition. In this framework, Xiomara and her trusted collaborators have had to deal with their closest allies and outsiders. This situation has been taken into account when evaluating the achievements of her campaign promises.
The energy issue has been a serious problem for several administrations, due to the enormous losses of the National Electric Energy Company (ENEE). In May 2022, at the request of the President, the National Congress approved the special law to guarantee the electric energy service as a public good of national security and a human right of economic and social nature. This law allows state supervision and intervention of companies contracted by the state in the electricity sub-sector.
Xiomara Castro also promised to support women’s reproductive rights and proposed the decriminalization of abortion on three grounds and the approval of the emergency contraceptive pill (PAE). The first promise is difficult to fulfill because abortion is expressly prohibited in the Constitution. A decision of the Constitutional Chamber would be necessary to annul this prohibition or that, by a qualified majority (86 votes), the National Congress votes for its repeal, something complicated, due to the fierce opposition of the Catholic Church and the evangelical sectors.
Although the evangelical churches are in the doldrums due to their unrestricted support to the extradited ex-president Juan Orlando Hernandez, they still have a great influence over certain sectors of the Honduran high society. Many legislators come from these sectors or are faithful to some of these creeds. In fact, the Minister of Health himself, José Manuel Matheu, of the Salvador Party of Honduras, is an open anti-abortion militant.
The transformation of the education and health systems was one of the promises that generated the highest expectations since Castro had promised to increase their budgets significantly. For this year, the general budget establishes increases of 7% for the Ministry of Education and 8% for the Ministry of Health. Although it is not enough, it is something.
On the other hand, the LGBTIQ+ community, whose leaders have expressed that they feel abandoned by the president, is complaining about the lack of fulfillment of her promises. One of the unfulfilled promises, so far, is the power of the individual to change his or her name on the new national identity card (DNI).
Regarding the environment, during the election campaign, the elimination of open-pit mining and the end of criminalization and criminal prosecution of land defenders were promised. In February 2022, the Ministry of Energy, Natural Resources, Environment and Mines declared Honduras a territory free of open-pit mining, but, in reality, nothing has changed. There are still mining operations that are in fierce conflict with local communities in Guapinol, Reitoca or Azacualpa, often with the complicity of local authorities and the National Police or the Army.
One of the most heartfelt campaign promises was the demilitarization of state security forces. The previous regime of Juan Orlando Hernández created elite police and military bodies, including the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP). All of these groups are still active, although with a supposed change of objectives and mentality in the case of the police, which is intended to be given a community vision.
On the other hand, President Xiomara Castro decided to take repressive measures against the scourge of extortion by creating a state of exception, which, however, does not eliminate the root of the problem related to gangs and gangs. These groups, according to analysts, are directly related to former officials, former legislators and, perhaps, to some of the current ones. As long as this relationship is not attacked and cut off, the problem will continue.
On the other hand, the state of exception has been strongly questioned by human rights defenders because it was implemented in 162 neighborhoods and districts of the Central District and San Pedro Sula, the two most populated urban centers in the country. These neighborhoods and districts have the highest poverty rates, which implies that the state itself criminalized indigence. In spite of this, the measure was extended in January of this year to 73 other municipalities.
Many other issues have remained, for the moment, unfinished, such as the eradication of the Employment and Economic Development Zones (Zedes), created by the previous government. Also, the impunity pacts, which have left hundreds of people responsible for corruption and other illicit acts at liberty, and the delayed creation and installation of the Commission against Corruption and Impunity (Cicih) are unfulfilled. Finally, the repeal of the “law of secrets”, which shields the actions of ex-governors, in practice has not been complied with neither by the Executive nor by the other branches of government.
At this time, in view of the numerous non-fulfillment of the campaign promises of President Xiomara Castro, the militants of her party are right when they affirm that “a historic opportunity to change Honduras is being lost”.
*Translated from Spanish by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva