Vice President Kamala Harris led a U.S. delegation to Honduras on Thursday for the inauguration of Xiomara Castro, the first woman to win the presidency, who the U.S. is banking on to help stem corruption and get to the root causes of migration.
Early in his administration, President Joe Biden tasked Harris to address the “root causes” of migration from Central America. The U.S. has strongly backed Castro and sees her as a potential ally in a region where there are few. The presidents of Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador, and Honduras' outgoing president, have presented challenges to the U.S.
During the swearing in ceremony at a packed soccer stadium, the crowd cheered when Harris was introduced. She congratulated Castro over her “democratic election.”
"The presidency of the Republic has never been filled by a woman in Honduras," Castro said during her inaugural speech. "We are breaking barriers, we are breaking traditions."
Following the ceremony, Harris and Castro held a bilateral meeting. As president, it was Castro's first meeting with a foreign leader. Harris said that combating corruption and impunity are the focus of the U.S. in order to get to the root causes of migration. Harris welcomed Castro’s plans to request the assistance of the United Nations to establish an international anti-corruption commission.
They also talked about collaboration on stimulating economic growth and the creation of jobs.
Harris said the U.S. will send Honduras several hundred thousand more COVID-19 vaccine doses in the next two month as well as 500,000 pediatric syringes, and $1.35 million to refurbish educational and health facilities.
The Biden administration’s relationship with Castro is “a welcome change for Washington, in a region where democracy is more at risk than at any point since Central America’s transition to democracy in the 1990s,” said Paul Angelo, a Latin America Studies fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who is currently in Guatemala conducting research on migration.
The corruption and lack of democracy in the region, Angelo said, has forced the administration to focus on partnerships with civil society and the private sector rather than governments.
“Castro’s presidency should give Washington cause for cautious optimism in this regard, but the magnitude of challenges confronting Honduras — including high poverty and unemployment, devastation by natural disasters, endemic violence and corruption," Angelo said, "will require substantial, targeted and sustainable investments to rebuild the country, professionalize its institutions and curb northward migration.”
But Castro, a leftist, is already facing domestic political challenges.
Honduras is in the midst of a legislative crisis with a dispute over who will lead the newly elected Congress. Rival candidates have declared themselves head of Congress, challenging Castro’s ability to pass legislation.
Dissident lawmakers from Castro’s Libre party are backing their own candidate rather than supporting Castro’s choice.
This will affect Castro’s ability to tackle corruption, as well as the high rates of unemployment and violence, as she has vowed to do. These are chronic problems, not only in Honduras but in the region, and they have helped fueled illegal immigration to the U.S.
This was Castro’s third run for the presidency. She was first lady when her husband, Manuel Zelaya, was in office. His presidency ended in 2009 with a military coup.
Castro’s inauguration brings to an end the eight-year tenure of Juan Orlando Hernández, who has been accused by federal prosecutors in New York of having links to drug traffickers. Hernández denies the accusations.
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