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Xiomara Castro sworn in as Honduras’ first female president

New Honduran President Xiomara Castro receives the presidential sash from her granddaughter, Irene Melara, and the President of the Congress Luis Redondo, during a swearing-in ceremony in Tegucigalpa, Honduras January 27, 2022. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

On Thursday, Xiomara Castro was inducted as Honduras’ first female president in front of a joyful audience that included U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, who offered U.S. government cooperation to combat migration and corruption.

The news: The eight-year dictatorship of Juan Orlando Hernandez, a former U.S. ally who has been accused of corruption and ties to drug traffickers in U.S. courts, comes to an end with Castro’s inauguration. Even as Hernandez was leaving office, a U.S. congresswoman demanded that he be indicted and that extradition requests be made.

New Honduran President Xiomara Castro reacts after receiving the presidential sash during a swearing-in ceremony in Tegucigalpa, Honduras January 27, 2022. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
  • Castro was sworn in at a crowded soccer stadium, backed by her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, who hailed her pledges to fix the country’s heavy debt burden.
  • “The economic catastrophe that I’m inheriting is unparalleled in the history of our country,” Castro said in her inaugural address.
  • Her government also faces challenges from a polarised Congress and strained relations with China as a result of Honduras’ diplomatic connections with Taiwan.
  • When Harris was introduced during the inauguration, she was greeted with applause and congratulated Castro on her democratic election.
  • Harris offered to collaborate on migration concerns, economic development, and fighting impunity in a meeting shortly after the ceremony, and said she appreciated Castro’s plans to seek UN assistance in establishing an anti-corruption commission.
  • Harris has been tasked with tackling the root reasons of migration in Central America’s poor Northern Triangle, but her visit coincides with President Joe Biden’s waning domestic support and a halt in his immigration plan.
  • Castro expressed her gratitude for Harris’ visit, as well as the Biden administration’s commitment to support the Honduran government, on Twitter.
  • Harris also promised to deliver hundreds of thousands additional COVID-19 vaccine shots to Honduras, as well as 500,000 syringes and $1.3 million in health and educational aid.
Honduran President-elect Xiomara Castro and her husband, former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, attend her swearing-in ceremony, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras January 27, 2022. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

What’s going on: As part of its efforts to counter China’s influence, U.S. officials seek to collaborate with Castro to reduce illegal immigration from Central America and strengthen international support for Taiwan.

  • Honduras is one of the few countries that maintain diplomatic relations with Taipei rather than Beijing, and Castro backed down from suggestions during her campaign that she may transfer allegiance to China if elected president.
  • In an effort to strengthen ties with Castro’s government, Taiwanese Vice President William Lai attended the inauguration. According to Harris, the two discussed their shared interest in Central America.
  • Harris’ arrival, according to Luis Leon, head of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy in Central America, was a help for Castro in the Congress control battle and in tackling Honduras’ ailing economy.
Honduran President-elect Xiomara Castro and her husband, former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, attend her swearing-in ceremony, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras January 27, 2022. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

What Castro said: After debt grew sevenfold under her two conservative predecessors, Castro claimed it was “practically impossible” to meet current debt payments without a restructure.

The country’s overall debt is estimated to be around $15.5 billion, or nearly 60 per cent of GDP, a concern Castro regularly highlighted in the run-up to her overwhelming victory in November.

  • “My government will not continue the maelstrom of looting that has condemned generations of young people to pay the debt they incurred behind their back,” she added.
  • She promised to provide free power to more than 1 million poor Hondurans right away, with larger consumers covering the cost.
  • Castro, who identifies herself as a democratic socialist, has promised to combat corruption, poverty, and violence, all of which have fuelled migration to the United States.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris walks down a red carpet with ambassador Ramon Valladares, Honduras Chief of Protocol, to attend the inauguration ceremony of Honduran President-elect Xiomara Castro in Palmerola, Honduras, January 27, 2022. Erin Schaff/Pool via REUTERS

In addition: However, renegade legislators from her leftist Libre party teamed with the opposition National Party to vote for one of its members to lead Congress, breaching an agreement with a major electoral partner.

  • Castro also takes office at a time when her predecessor Hernandez, who had served a maximum of two terms as president and had been a long-time U.S. ally in immigration and anti-narcotics operations, is embroiled in scandal.
  • Norma Torres, a member of the United States Congress, has urged for Hernandez’s indictment on drug charges and for U.S. officials to seek his extradition.
  • Hernandez, on the other hand, could be protected from extradition for up to four years because he was sworn in as a member of the Central American parliament soon after Castro’s inauguration.
  • He has refuted allegations of corruption and ties to drug traffickers on numerous occasions.
  • Last year, a U.S. judge sentenced Hernandez’s brother to life in jail plus 30 years for drug trafficking.
Newly-sworn in Honduran President Xiomara Castro held a meeting with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris right after her inauguration on Thursday
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