The Estadio Olimpico was filled, not to watch La H as the men’s national soccer team is known, but to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Xiomara Castro, the first woman democratic socialist president in Honduras’s history.
Outside the stadium, you might expect to see banners depicting important moments in soccer history. Instead, portraits of historical women figures draped the stadium walls. The arrival of important foreign diplomats and dignitaries and their respective countries was announced by the master of ceremony.
The line between geopolitics and sports began to blur in my head; it felt like the Olympic games or more like the Central American games. When the 13-piece band began to play the national anthem, Castro, singing along, held her right hand over her heart and her left hand in a power salute towards the sky.
Castro was elected this past November in her third consecutive presidential run. Castro isn’t the typical leftist candidate. She doesn’t have the political formation that one would expect. She was a housewife and involved mostly in community service organizations. As I interviewed Mercy Ayala of the ERIC-SJ Jesuit research center, she pointed out that in this way Castro shares a much more common experience with the average Hondureña. She served as the first lady until 2009 when her husband, Mel Zelaya, was ousted in a coup that forced him out of the country.
“She could have very well gone into exile, but she hit the streets with the people and accompanied the process and emphasized what the coup d’etat meant for the country.” For people like Mercy and her colleagues, this election signifies an alternative to 12 years of conservative, undemocratic rule, underscored by state-sponsored narcotrafficking and corruption, that has afflicted the country.
“This is a community that deepened its consciousness around the protection of the commons,” Mercy says, speaking to me about the trial of Guapinol Eight. “In the last few years, protests have been criminalized. These eight men, adults and youth, have been there for two years robbed of their freedom.” Mercy points out that there have been many irregularities and the charges levied unsubstantiated. International human rights organizations like Amnesty International agree and have demanded the release of the eight men who stood in defense of water resources against the interests of extractivism.
More recently, the brother of the former president, Tony Hernandez—who served in the Honduran congress—was sentenced to life in prison here in the United States for his role in trafficking cocaine. Allegedly, millions of drug dollars were funneled into the right-wing Nationalist party and the presidential campaign of his brother, Juan Orlando Hernandez. It was reported by the Intercept that the former ex-minister of defense recently requested political asylum in the United States in fear that corruption charges would be brought against him. There may be many more to flee if President Castro stays true to her campaign promises.
President Castro has four years to realize her 15 point platform, which she expanded to 22 points during her swearing-in ceremony. She opened by pledging to expand a system of popular councils through which the people can participate. She rattled off her enumerated plan to the cheers of El Olimpico, the first being that one million families living in poverty will receive free electricity which will be subsidized by the highest consumers of power in the country.
“Libertad para los presos políticos de Guapinol!” followed by whistling and applause from the representatives of social movements in the stands.
“Justicia para Berta Caceres!” Another roar from the crowd. Berta’s daughter, Berta Zuniga, took the stage alongside Xiomara presenting her “la vara alta,” or the long staff of the indigenous Lenca people. Castro committed to rolling back the capitalist pillaging by renegotiating CAFTA and to strengthening democratic institutions.
She closed by recognizing half of the population in the country that will be for the first time represented directly. “No more violence against women, I will fight with all of my power to close the gaps and to generate the conditions so that our girls can develop fully and live in a country free of violence. Women of Honduras I will not fail you. I will defend your rights, you can count on me. ¡Hasta la victoria siempre!”
According to the former Salvadoran guerilla commander and public intellectual, Dagoberto Gutierrez, Honduras may be the most important geopolitical country in the region. The country has the most vibrant social movement, and historically, has been strategically located for the U.S. to continue its hegemonic role in the region.
It won’t be easy to govern and to begin paving the way for others in the region to follow. There are powerful oligarchs; the same oligarchs that removed her husband from office will undoubtedly line up against her. The weight of a renewed Honduran democracy rests squarely on the shoulders of Xiomara Castro, but she isn’t alone. The people of Honduras, especially women, are ready to press on.