This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
Honduras’s new president, Juan Orlando Hernández, takes office on January 27. However, given ongoing questions about his victory in November’s election, the legitimacy of Hernández’s presidency remains in doubt. On this shaky democratic mandate, Hernández will likely continue to militarize Honduran society while implementing more of the neoliberal economic measures that have increased income inequality in the country since the 2009 coup d’état, which deposed the populist president Manuel Zelaya.
These developments bode poorly for the consolidation of democracy in Honduras, where the military has committed human rights violations with impunity throughout the post-coup era. Continued repression in this increasingly polarized country will dim hopes for regional stability and democratization in post-coup Honduras.
A Return to Democracy?
In anticipation of November’s election, many Hondurans held high hopes about a return to democracy four years after the military ousted the democratically elected Zelaya and installed a right-wing caretaker government. Zelaya’s supporters largely boycotted the 2009 election that followed the coup, pushing turnout below fifty-one percent and casting a pall on the vote, which was overseen by the coup authorities and protested by the region’s left-leaning governments. While the Honduran constitution barred Zelaya from running in the 2013 presidential election, his loyalists decided to participate and supported his wife, Xiomara Castro.
As the presidential candidate of the Libre Party, which was created by anti-coup activists in the aftermath of Zelaya’s ouster, Castro offered a vision for Honduras that greatly contrasted with Hernández’s. Although in agreement with Hernández that Honduras’s dire homicide crisis needed to be addressed, Castro opposed Hernández’s calls for deploying more soldiers on the streets, instead calling on the military to secure the country’s international borders from drug traffickers. While speaking of a “new Honduras,” Castro emphasized support for her husband’s progressive policies. Her campaign received widespread support from many elements of Honduran civil society, including prominent artists and writers, low-income Hondurans and indigenous communities.