Xiomara Castro becomes first woman president of Honduras
Leftist Xiomara Castro was sworn in Thursday as the first woman president of Honduras after seemingly resolving a rebellion in her own party that had challenged her authority.
“I promise to be faithful to the Republic, to comply with and enforce the Constitution and its laws,” 62-year-old Castro said at a ceremony attended by international dignitaries and her choice for Congress president, Luis Redondo.
Redondo had been at the center of a disruptive rivalry within Castro’s Libre party, which is in a majority alliance in Congress.
Factions of Libre split on who should be the legislature’s new president and held rival sittings in the past week.
Castro needs a loyal Congress to carry out her election promises to tackle corruption, crime and poverty.
Her election last November brought an end to 12 years of right-wing National Party (PN) rule that followed the ousting of her husband, former president Manuel Zelaya, in a 2009 coup d’etat.
“Twelve years of struggle, 12 years of resistance. Today the people’s government begins,” Castro said on Twitter.
From dawn, queues had formed outside the national stadium in the capital Tegucigalpa where 29,000 people were due to watch the inauguration with US Vice President Kamala Harris, King Felipe VI of Spain and Taiwan Vice President William Lai.
– Country in ‘deep crisis‘ –
Negotiations to end the impasse within Libre seemed to have reached a successful conclusion Thursday as Redondo opened a legislative session shortly before the swearing-in ceremony.
His rival Jorge Calix, supported by almost a third of Libre MPs backed by members of rightwing parties, did not attend a rival session as he had on Sunday.
Castro said late Wednesday she had offered Calix the job of cabinet coordinator — similar to chief of staff — in a bid to convince him to drop his claim to the Congress presidency.
The dispute, which last Friday saw lawmakers exchange blows in Congress, was an embarrassing distraction for Castro ahead of assuming office with a full in-tray.
Honduras is “a country in a deep crisis, above all a social crisis, whose despair, whose deterioration of living conditions have become so profound,” Eugenio Sosa, a sociologist at the National University of Honduras, told AFP.
Hondurans are fleeing the country in droves, often to the United States, in search of work and a better life.
Castro accuses the Calix supporters within Libre of being in cahoots with the PN and other forces she says want to undermine her anti-corruption drive.
– Migration talks –
Harris would hold talks with Castro on the root causes of Central American migration toward the United States, a senior US official said ahead of Thursday’s swearing-in.
“The topics will include expanding economic opportunity, combating corruption and humanely managing migration,” the official added.
More than 70 percent of Hondurans live in poverty, according to the Fosdeh NGO, and drug- and gang-related violent crime is rife.
The murder rate is close to 40 per 100,000 inhabitants.
“Everyone wants to leave because there’s no work. If there were more job opportunities here, there would be no need to look for another country,” university student Jensi Davila told AFP in Tegucigalpa.
Lai will also meet Castro, though separately, “to exchange views on issues of mutual concern,” according to Taiwan’s foreign ministry.
Honduras is one of just 14 countries to recognize Taiwan.
China, which considers Taiwan a part of its territory, has spent decades successfully encouraging the island nation’s allies to switch sides.
On the election campaign, Castro vowed to “immediately open diplomatic and commercial relations with mainland China” if she won.