Celebrations erupted the night of November 28 as leftist candidate Xiomara Castro took a commanding lead over Nasry Asfura of the right-wing National Party. Fireworks were set off outside the headquarters of Castro’s Liberty and Refoundation Party (LIBRE) as supporters sang. In contrast, the ruling National Party’s headquarters was reported to be completely empty.
Castro’s landslide victory signals the end of the National Party’s 12-year grip on power, which began in a 2009 military coup that ousted Castro’s husband, Manuel Zelaya. This coup, supported by the Obama administration, ushered in a regime led first by Porfirio Lobo, and since 2014 by the notoriously corrupt Juan Orlando Hernández.
Castro was elected on a campaign to undo the infamous corruption of Hernández, as well as reverse a decade of anti-worker economic policies that drastically increased poverty. She characterizes her program as democratic socialist.
It is the second time in just over a year that the Latin American left has ousted a right-wing, U.S.-backed coup regime, the first being Bolivia’s ousting of Jeanine Áñez in 2020.
The struggle for Honduras’ future
The visions of the left and right wing in the election could not have been more different.
Castro’s campaign was embraced by the country’s working class and popular movements as a vehicle to overturn the coup regime and put the country back on track to achieve greater social justice and assert its national independence. While Zelaya was elected as a relatively centrist figure in 2005, he quickly moved to the left, instituting major reforms that greatly reduced poverty, built up Honduras’ sovereignty, and improved public infrastructure.
Zelaya brought Honduras into the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), an organization founded by Cuba and Venezuela which seeks economic cooperation between countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Honduras was able to benefit from the Petrocaribe program, which allowed countries to access fuel from oil-rich countries like Venezuela. Zelaya also moved to close the U.S. military base Soto Cano.
The minimum wage was nearly doubled, free education was guaranteed to children, school meals were guaranteed for more than 1.6 million children, land reforms helped to increase agricultural production and exports, doctors were brought in from Cuba to expand the country’s healthcare offerings, and many of the poorest Hondurans were provided with free electricity. Honduras’ poverty rate fell 10%.
Castro emerged as a resistance figure and protest leader during the post-coup period, when social movements and left wing organization within the country formed a united front to challenge the dictatorship — the National Popular Resistance Front. The LIBRE Party formed as an electoral expression of these groups.
Castro ran on a platform which included decriminalizing abortion, creating a United Nations-backed anti-corruption commission and repealing laws which she says have fed corruption. She has also suggested ending Honduras’ provocative diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in favor of normalizing relations with China. The possibility of this development concerned the U.S. government so much that it dispatched Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Brian Nichols to Honduras just days before the vote to pressure the country’s leaders to stick with Taiwan — another arrogant violation of Honduran independence.
The LIBRE Party faced steep challenges, brutal repression, and severe violence in their attempts across 3 presidential election cycles to oust the dictatorship. But years of struggle, a rapidly declining standard of living, and revelations of corruption and drug trafficking at the highest levels of the National Party eroded the ability of the dictatorship to retain power.
The first post-coup president — Roberto Micheletti, who was directly installed by the military – committed 270 documented human rights violations in just five months in office. In the first few months of the next military-installed president, Porfirio Lobo, 36 activists and leaders were murdered and at least 50 more died in political violence.
Taking power in 2014, Hernández intensified political repression during his two contested presidential terms. The first election was marred by fraud, and the second election in 2017 was even more of an obvious farce. Hernández was barred by Honduran law from running for a second term, but was placed on the ballot anyway. The 2017 election results appeared to show the candidate backed by the LIBRE Party winning until “technical failures” severely delayed the electronic vote count. When the vote count came back online, the National Party had miraculously recovered their losses. Protests in the following days were met with further violence and repression from the police and military.
Both Hernández and the National Party’s current candidate, Asfura, have been implicated in corruption. Just one year into his presidency, Hernández and the ruling government were accused of embezzling public funds from the Honduran Social Security Institute through the use of nonexistent shell companies.
In 2019, U.S. prosecutors implicated Hernández and other National Party officials in a conspiracy “to leverage drug trafficking to maintain and enhance their political power.” U.S. prosecutors have since expanded those claims to allege that Hernández used the country’s armed forces to protect a cocaine laboratory. Since 2009, the U.S. has spent well over $100 million to train and equip the same Honduran state that U.S. prosecutors now claim was facilitating drug trafficking. Tony Hernández, Juan Orlando’s brother, was sentenced to life in prison in March of this year by a U.S. court for his role in this international cocaine trafficking operation.
Asfura was indicted in Honduras last year for embezzlement of public funds and money laundering. He was accused of embezzling over $1 million, just before the current presidential election.
12 years of U.S.-backed dictatorship, neoliberal austerity, and corruption have devastated Honduras, turning it into one of the most dangerous countries in the world, especially for journalists and activists. But due to the strength of 12 years of heroic resistance, during which scores of activists like Berta Cáceres were murdered for taking a stand, the dictatorship appears to have been unable to rig the election.
A historic victory for the Honduran people and Latin America
Castro’s election is a historic victory for the people of Honduras, and the election has wider regional significance for Latin America. Honduras now joins Bolivia and Venezuela as nations that have reversed a Washington-sponsored coup in the last 20 years — showing how the balance of power is shifting in a region of the world the U.S. government arrogantly refers to as its backyard. Just last year, a similar struggle against the Áñez regime led to the return to power of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) and the imprisonment of many of the coup-mongers. Venezuelans also overthrew a coup attempt in 2002 that lasted just 47 hours.
While two of these coup reversals relied on an election to seal the deal, all three required highly organized mass movements. Trade unions, Indigenous groups, and other organized sectors of civil society united to disrupt the regimes’ ability to conduct “business as usual” until concessions are made.
Honduras is also poised to join the growing wave of Latin American countries taking a progressive, leftward turn. Just a few years ago, the Latin American left was on the ropes, with right-wing governments dominating all but a handful of countries. Using a combination of military coups and judicial persecution against progressive leaders, the United States successfully overthrew many of the left-wing governments that took power in the preceding decade — beginning in Honduras in 2009. By labeling the governments of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela the “Troika of Tyranny,” the Trump administration signaled to the world Washington’s intent to crush the last bastions of resistance in the hemisphere.
Not only has brutal hybrid war failed to overthrow these governments, popular uprisings have shaken neoliberal client states to their core. In Brazil, people have turned out en masse to resist Bolsonaro’s threats of a coup, while the popular Lula da Silva has been exonerated against false charges of corruption and is poised to win next year’s presidential election. Chile has seen massive uprisings that led to the election of a constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution, which would scrap the current constitution imposed under the fascist Pinochet dictatorship. Other major uprisings have threatened to topple the governments of Ecuador and Colombia, allies of U.S. imperialism in South America. A progressive administration was elected in Argentina and left-wing teacher and union leader Pedro Castillo defeated the daughter of a fascist dictator in June.
Castro’s election in Honduras is another nail in the coffin of the U.S.-backed right wing offensive. The people of Honduras are celebrating the end of the long dictatorship.