Honduras at the Crossroads: Will the New President bring New Hope?

Juan Hernando Hernández,
 New President of Honduras and his Wife
For the last month, at least,  the Aanglidesh lunch room has been alive with heated political discussions.  Fr. Roberto has pushed with no uncertain terms, the policies of Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party  and in response Doña Eufemia, our cleaning lady, has pushed back with equal force for Xiomara Castro de Zelaya of  Libre.

While other parties were in the running, these were the serious contenders, each offering differing solutions to Honduras' problems and each with it's own pitfalls.

But first, some background.

The crisis of 2009, which still greatly effects  Hondurans, was the coup de etat, which ousted   President  Manuel Zelaya, husband of Libre candidate Xiomara Castro.  He attempted  to extend his presidency another term, calling for a change to the constitution, which only allowed one term.  While he only asked for a non-binding referendum, other Hondurans (including the Supreme Court) took no chances.   They saw it as a power grab, a la Hugo Chavez of Venezuela,  who at that time was providing Zelaya with money, oil and advice.  As a result, they immediately had him arrested and threw him out of the country.

Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, Libre Presidential Candidate
with her husband,
Josè Manuel 'Mel' Zelaya, Former President of Honduras

The coup was quick and limited, but in certain places very brutal.  Allegations have been made of suppression, torture and murder of several of Zelaya`s supporters.   Even just a few months ago, a Libre camera man was mysteriously shot.  In a country of violence, it's hard to tell the difference between random crime and political payback. Regardless, feelings are still raw as the recent violent demonstration at the university proves.

On another front, roughly around 2006, the drug cartels began to  push into Honduras, as a result of Mexico's  crackdown on crime. They joined forces with existing gangs, who had Latino origins in the United States, such as 18th Steet Gang and Mara Salvatrucha.  These gangs terrorized  poor neighborhoods  imposing curfews and demanding 'war tax' (ie. protection money).  Many people, who refused or simply couldn`t pay, were murdered.  In addition,  the huge influx of illegal  narco-money made it easy to corrupt the poorly paid and trained police force.  All of these factors have added to the current  crime-wave, which has driven homicide rates up to 82 per 100,000, the highest in the Americas.

Homicides in Honduras
with Number of Cases and Rate per 100,000 Persons.
Finally,  Honduras remains the second poorest country in Central America, only  slightly ahead of Nicaragua.  According to INE (Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas) the poverty rate jumped to 65% in 2012.    For a nation, where life has always been difficult, things have become worse.

GDP per Capita for Honduras at $4243 per annum

 In this context,  Libre offered in this election an extended safety net for the poor, which is so desperately needed.    And under the Zelaya administration, they did deliver.   But to vote Libre also meant the risk of losing democracy,  a possible leftist strongman (or woman) in office for life and an even more inefficient economy.

On the other hand, a vote for the National Party meant getting tough on crime, reforming the police force and preserving  the Honduran Constitution.   Yet National is also the party of the wealthy families in this country, who have participated wantonly in Honduras' widespread corruption, accumulated great wealth and ignored the needs of the poor. 

In the end, Honduras decided  to stay with the  National Party and elected Juan Orlando.  Everyone agrees that fighting crimes  is  necessary, if the country is going to recover. 

The real question is whether President-elect Juan Orlando will actively work to improve this country or continue to let things drift, as has been done for so long.


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