Honduras swears in Xiomara Castro as first female president | Political news

Xiomara Castro has been sworn in as Honduras’ first female president, taking office amid growing uncertainty about her ability to govern in the face of an ongoing legislative crisis and other challenges.

Castro, the 62-year-old left-wing Free Party leader, won the November 28 election by a healthy margin, but recent political maneuverings ahead of her inauguration on Thursday have distracted from what observers hoped to be a fresh start in the troubled nation.

She was sworn in Thursday afternoon in a ceremony at a national stadium in the capital, Tegucigalpa, amid thousands of Hondurans waving flags, dancing and shouting. She smiled broadly as the blue and white presidential sash was draped over her chest.

Supporters of Xiomara Castro carried signs of relatives and loved ones killed in the 2009 coup [Jose Cabezas/Reuters]

In her inauguration speech, Castro promised to tackle corruption and inequality that she said had been rampant under the previous administration, and to tackle poverty – which she added fueled the massive flight of Hondurans to the north.

“The economic disaster I inherit is unprecedented in the history of our country,” Castro said, denouncing a debt that had increased sevenfold under his two conservative predecessors. “My government will not continue the maelstrom of looting that has condemned generations of young people to pay the debt they incurred behind their backs,” she added to thunderous applause.

Castro takes the reins as Honduras has been engulfed in a dispute over who will lead the newly elected Congress.

Two congressional leadership teams were selected — neither legitimately, experts say — and their deadlock threatened legislative paralysis at a time when Castro desperately needed to get to work quickly to fix systemic problems.

Honduras faces high unemployment, persistent violence, corruption, as well as struggling health and education systems – challenges that Castro vowed to overcome.

But elected lawmakers from Castro’s Free Party backed one of their own to be the new legislature speaker on Friday rather than backing Castro’s choice, which had been agreed with his vice president to win his party’s support. . Neither group backed down, leading to surreal concurrent legislative sessions on Tuesday.

“Historic Day”

Al Jazeera’s Manuel Rapalo, reporting from Tegucigalpa on Thursday, said it was “a historic day for the people of Honduras”. About 80 international delegations were expected to attend Castro’s swearing-in ceremony.

“The large number of high-level guests present highlights the importance of this day,” he said ahead of the ceremony. “There are fireworks here, lots of excitement…in the streets.”

But despite this, Rapala pointed out that Castro faces “a very difficult task when it comes to dealing with the many challenges and problems that Honduras faces”, including violence, crippling poverty and an economic crisis worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There remains the question of immigration. This is one of the reasons why [US] Vice President Kamala Harris is here – again seeking to strengthen this relationship between the United States and Honduras, hoping to find a multilateral approach to addressing the root causes of migration from Central America .

VP Kamala HarrisUS Vice President Kamala Harris leads the US delegation attending Castro’s inauguration [Erin Schaff/Pool via Reuters]

The United States, seeing an opportunity to gain an ally, strongly backed Castro and said it was ready to lend support. But a possible sign of tensions in the region, the presidents of neighboring El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua were not expected to attend Thursday’s ceremony.

Washington sees areas of cooperation on Castro’s priorities of fighting corruption and increasing economic opportunity in his country, two areas that could affect Hondurans’ decisions to stay in the country or try to emigrate to the states. -United.

Harris was the first foreign leader to meet with Castro after his inauguration on Thursday, the White House said in a statement detailing the talks. “They discussed deepening our cooperation on a wide range of issues, including addressing the root causes of migration, fighting corruption and expanding economic opportunities,” the statement said.

Taiwan Vice President William Lai also attended the inauguration in a bid to strengthen ties with Honduras under Castro, who during his election campaign threatened to switch allegiance to Beijing from Taipei if he was elected president. After meeting Lai on Wednesday, Castro said Honduras was grateful for Taiwan’s support and hoped to maintain their relationship.

Choice of cabinet

Meanwhile, Castro, who succeeds right-wing President Juan Orlando Hernandez, said she plans to formally invite the United Nations to set up an anti-corruption mission in Honduras.

“Honduras has been a very difficult partner for the United States, particularly under the administration of Juan Orlando Hernandez for a number of reasons, including the constant whirlwind of illegal activity around him and his family,” said said Jason Marczak, Senior Director of Adrienne Arsht. Atlantic Council’s Latin American Center told the Associated Press news agency.

Hernandez has been charged in US courts with bribery and ties to drug traffickers, but has repeatedly denied the allegations. A US judge last year sentenced his brother to life in prison, plus 30 years, for drug trafficking.

Translation: I announce to the country part of the team of women and men who will accompany me in the project of reconstruction of Honduras.

Castro’s electoral victory in November came during his third run for president. She previously served as first lady under the presidency of her husband, Manuel Zelaya, which was cut short by a military coup in 2009.

Just hours before his inauguration, Castro tweeted his top cabinet picks, which included two women out of 16 advertised positions.

His son, Hector Zelaya, will be his private secretary and Manuel Zelaya’s nephew, Jose Manuel Zelaya, is his choice for the post of defense secretary. Ramon Sabillon, a former national police chief who recently returned to Honduras after living in exile in the United States for years, was his pick for the post of security minister.

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