Emilio Faulkner is a second year IR student in the Department of War Studies. Due to his Honduran heritage he is motivated to take on the position of Latin America Editor for IR Today. He believes Latin America is often understudied and disregarded in the study of IR. Emilio is therefore excited to have the opportunity to fill this void and explore the region’s role in international affairs. As well as Latin America, his academic interests lie in the concepts of Grand Strategy, Statecraft and the recent re-emergence of major power rivalry on the global stage.
Honduras is a troubled country. Not only has violent crime, corruption and natural disasters plagued the country for decades, but it also has some of the most ‘draconian’ laws with regard to reproductive rights in the region. It has the highest femicide rate in Latin America, and according to the World Bank, 50% of its population lives below the poverty line.
However, Xiomara Castro, the former first lady of the country, is now its President. Representing Libre – the Freedom and Refoundation Party – she embodies the fight against migration, corruption, poverty and for the extension of women’s rights in Honduras and the rest of the region as a whole. Her landslide victory and accession to power in a country such as Honduras could be just another indicator of the changes and significant shifts currently taking place in Latin America.
After the National Party’s 12 year reign under Juan Orlando Hernandez, whose Presidency was mired with accusations of corruption and ties to organised crime, in November of last year, Xiomara Castro was voted to be Honduras’ next leader. Her campaigning and political career started after her husband, Manuel Zelaya, was ousted from power by a military coup in 2009. Her democratic socialism has captured the attention of Hondurans, who after years of being ignored, see Castro as a leader they can trust to tackle the issues which most greatly affect normal, day-to-day Hondurans.
Castro’s team are working alongside women’s rights groups to draft laws outlawing violence against women. They are also proposing the introduction of sexual education at school. Moreover, Castro is also looking to fix deficiencies in the justice system, which has long allowed Presidents and the powerful to unilaterally make decisions which often go against the general interests of the normal Hondurans. Castro also faces a plethora of issues with regard to the country’s economy. She is intent on encouraging inclusive economic development and in order to do so has requested membership in the Development Bank of Latin America. The country’s current public debt amounts to $15.7 billion – this alone accounts for 59% of Honduras’ GDP. 30% of the national budget must go towards paying off this debt, and therefore this membership will be vital to Honduras’ future.
However, Xiomara Castro’s accession to power has not only had benefits domestically. Although, throughout her election campaign she toyed with the idea of switching Honduras’ recognition from Taipei to Beijing in her search for recovery aid and infrastructure finance, the country’s relationship with the US has strengthened. Due to the importance of the US market to the Honduran economy, Castro cannot afford to risk the country’s relationship with America. Even Taiwan, in January 2022, scrapped tariffs on 25 imports from Honduras to ensure the country’s continuing support. Due to Castro’s left-wing policies, she is an unlikely US ally. However, especially at a time when both El Salvador and Guatemala are leaning strongly toward China, Castro’s focus on corruption and the expansion of rights and the rule of law has made her and Honduras extremely valuable to the USA. Kamala Harris’ presence at Castro’s inauguration and pledge to work closely with Honduras in future is a clear indicator of this.
Yet, although her arrival to power is a significant step forward for Honduras domestically and internationally, she still faces daunting challenges to transform her pledges and goals into reality. On the 21st of January this year, 18 members of her party broke ranks and sided with the National Party over who should head up the legislative body. Although this issue was finally resolved giving Libre a 68 out of 128 majority in the Honduran Parliament, Castro still must negotiate the election of the Supreme Court Chief Justice and Attorney General – two appointments which could define her ability to carry out her campaign pledges. Moreover, in the Honduran Congress, 75% of favourable votes are needed to pass abortion legislation. In a traditional and catholic country, this is just another barrier facing Castro in her mission.
Xiomara Castro, despite her short time in office, seems to be changing her country’s direction. Her democratic socialist leanings are far removed from the corrupt tendencies of previous governments. She is focusing on introducing extensive reform, highlighting again how Latin America, as a continent, is developing and changing slowly for the better. However, due to the historical challenges put up by Latin American norms, values and tendencies, we are yet to see whether she will be able to translate her intentions into successful action.