On November 25, the afternoon after Election Day in Honduras, several hundred red-flag-waving protesters marched through the streets of Tegucigalpa in support of Xiomara Castro, the woman they claimed is the rightful president of the country. The next day, hundreds of students took up the cause, staving off police and teargas. And the following morning, even more students poured into the streets, adding their voices to the crescendo of outrage that has roiled the country amid allegations of vote-buying by the winning party, election fraud and ongoing murders of opposition supporters.
Honduras’s November 24 election was supposed to have been a signal moment, the first time since the United States–backed military coup that citizens had a meaningful opportunity to express their political will. But with the defeat of Castro, who ran as the candidate of the left-leaning LIBRE party, and the victory of the National Party’s Juan Orlando Hernández, there are real questions over whether the people’s will has been heard. Castro has called for a recount and vowed to challenge the results, but even so, the likely outcome for Honduras is four more years of hardline neoliberal leadership—from the presidential palace if not from congress.
Honduras was in crisis well before the coup, but the removal of the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya in 2009 pushed the country into free fall. Violent deaths climbed to nearly twenty a day. The country’s second city, San Pedro Sula, surpassed Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez as the murder capital of the world in 2011. Inequality surged. And as social spending dropped, debt rose steadily. “From 2010-2012, the poverty rate increased by 13.2 percent while the extreme poverty rate increased by 26.3 percent,” reads a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. The report continues, “Honduras now has the most unequal distribution of income in Latin America.”
The election of Hernández as president means a continuation of the policies that have driven the country into such disaster. As the candidate of the ruling National Party, and the president of congress during the last four years, Hernández is very much a creature of the conservative establishment. During his tenure in congress, he oversaw the creation of a new military police force, which was turned out onto the streets just before the election; as a candidate, he continued to beat the drums for security, promising to put a “soldier on every corner” and to pair soldiers with police for urban patrols. Meanwhile, his colleagues in the ruling National Party have promised to further open the country to foreign investment. The Economist reported that prior to the inauguration at the end of January, the National Party may push through a new round of cuts in order to qualify for a new IMF loan.
And yet, if the election didn’t usher in the change for which many hoped, the story is nonetheless more complicated than presidential winners and losers. As much as Hernández intends to entrench the status quo, he will also be forced to contend with a changing country—one where he will face both a potent new political force, in the form of Castro’s party, LIBRE, as well as the urban and rural grassroots movements that have been pushing back throughout the country.