Piloting a series of substantial policy changes a little more than one week into her mandate, Honduras’ President Xiomara Castro has already established herself as a firm Latin American leader. In the process, she has brought hope and happiness to the Honduran people, living under the pall of an oppressive regime since the 2009 military coup that removed Manuel Zelaya from the presidency.
The festive atmosphere of Xiomara Castro’s inauguration lit up Honduras’ capital city Tegucigalpa, as thousands of supporters of Castro and her Libre party, waving red party flags and the turquoise flag of Honduras, filled the National Stadium and surrounding streets for the ceremony on Thursday, January 27.
“A complete festival is taking place at this time of night in the surroundings of the National Stadium of Tegucigalpa, prior to the inauguration of Xiomara Castro as president,” reported Honduras’ TN5 outlet.
“For me, on a very personal level, I was in tears walking in and seeing that sea of red in the seating around the circumference of the stadium,” said CODEPINK’s Terri Mattson. “It literally was a sea of red, of Libre party flags. It was very powerful, and very emotional.”
The atmosphere of popular celebration stood in stark contrast to the unease that has permeated public events for many years, under the repression of successive governments linked to corruption, drug trafficking, and the military, backed by the US government. “It was so wonderful to be in Honduras and see people happy,” added Mattson. “That alegría [joy] was in the air. I have never been in Honduras with that feeling… To feel that feeling that has been absent for so very long, was really powerful and very moving.”
“I had the same feeling,” concurred activist and Libre co-ordinator Lucy Pagoada Quesada. “The most amazing thing was the way we were received, with so much love, and so much happiness, and so much appreciation. ‘Today,’ I said, ‘I feel like they are throwing roses and flowers at us, but in the past I had to face the military and the police, being teargassed… and feeling intimidated.’”
Xiomara Castro: a whirlwind of activity
The moment the festivities were over, Castro’s administration got to work. Her first order of business was re-establishing diplomatic relations with Venezuela and recognizing the government of Nicolás Maduro. The stooges of Juan Guaidó’s entourage fled the Venezuelan embassy, and the diplomatic headquarters was recovered by the legitimate Venezuelan government, reducing the number of countries supporting the ongoing US-led Guaidó coup attempt to 15.
The Libre party also moved to rehabilitate the national cultural patrimony of the country, restoring the official flag of Honduras to its original bright turquoise blue color. During 13 years in power, the National Party had slowly converted the flag’s color to the darker blue of the National Party colors. “We have also been reclaiming our symbols,” recounted Pagoada Quesada, “the symbols that were kidnapped by the dictatorship—because that is what dictatorships do, they take everything away from the people. They take our resources, they take our identity, they steal everything from us. In Honduras, we have to take it back.”
Honduran children returned to school for the first time in almost two years this week. The withdrawal of the neoliberal government from social programs resulted in the deprioritization of educational services. Honduras closed schools on March 13, 2020, and never reopened them, forcing classes online in a country with low levels of technology. Only 38% of Hondurans are connected to the internet, and 4% of schools, according to a recent Dalberg report. In addition, the devastating hurricanes Eta and Iota, striking Honduras in quick succession in November 2020, damaged 81% of Honduras’s schools. Honduras was the last Latin American country to reopen schools.
“Throughout the dictatorship, all of the system—the education system, the health system, everything in Honduras—collapsed, because we were living under a completely collapsed state,” Pagoada Quesada said. School is now offered free for all of Honduras’ children, a policy introduced by ex-President Zelaya.
Castro also presented a bill to Congress that will permit disadvantaged Hondurans access to free electricity. The Electric Industry Law could benefit up to 1.3 million Honduran families. About 70% of the country lives in poverty, according to official records.
In addition, a law was passed this week that will grant amnesty to political prisoners jailed for their opposition to the coup and the ensuing regime. Dozens were killed for political reasons by the narco-regime, including at least 21 electoral candidates assassinated since December 2020, according to the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH). The murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres in 2016 has received international attention. In addition to those killed, countless Hondurans have been imprisoned for opposing the 2009 coup, the questionable elections held since then, and the damaging neoliberal policies of the regime, including eight Guapinol water defenders imprisoned in 2019 for opposing an iron oxide mine in a protected area. United Nations human rights experts had recommended their release, and Pagoada Quesada confirmed that the amnesty will apply to the Guapinol eight, among other political prisoners.
Castro’s administration also passed a law to condemn and investigate the military coup that took place in 2009. “This is justice,” said Pagoada Quesada. “We feel that the criminals who perpetrated the coup, that killed all of our martyrs, need to be processed, just like in Bolivia—not to say that we are doing it because Bolivia is doing it. We are doing it because we feel that justice needs to be done for the Honduran people, and for the families of the martyred.”
Finally, the Libre party, working alongside the United Nations, has created CICIH, the International Commission Against Impunity in Honduras, to investigate and prosecute corruption, modeled on the success of the similar commission in Guatemala. Libre had initiated the process prior to the inauguration.
A hazardous journey ahead
Castro will undoubtedly face powerful internal and external opposition to her policies, such as the attempt to form a parallel Congress that occurred before she even took office.
“We know that the enemy never sleeps,” said Pagoada Quesada. “This is a government that is going to be highly attacked. President Zelaya’s administration was attacked because he was looking out for the people of Honduras, and he touched the interest of the oligarchy, the ruling elites, and the economic powers, both inside and outside Honduras. Xiomara is going to do the same… and that could bring similar consequences.”
Less than a year before he was abducted by the military in the middle of the night, Manuel Zelaya had joined the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), the regional partnership founded by Venezuela and Cuba in 2004. The decision was annulled after the coup, but It is anticipated that Honduras may consider rejoining ALBA under Xiomara Castro, which would have significant geopolitical ramifications for waning US hegemony in Latin America.
“We have seen the emergence of a new consciousness among the Honduran people,” Fidel Castro wrote in 2009. “A host of social fighters have gained experience in that battle… New and admirable cadres have emerged in the combative social movements. They are capable of leading that people through the hazardous journey that awaits the peoples of Our America. A revolution is in the making there.” With Xiomara Castro’s first week in office, this revolution continues.
This piece first appeared in the Orinoco Tribune.