Central America’s bright hope

An election victory in Honduras turned on a candidate’s promise to curb mass corruption.

Presidential candidate Xiomara Castro acknowledges her supporters after general elections in Honduras Nov. 28.

The flashy headline coming out of a Nov. 28 election in Honduras could be that the Central American nation appears set to have its first female president. Xiomara Castro of the leftist Libre Party holds a commanding lead in the vote count. Yet for a country in which 3% of the population has emigrated in just the past year, her tentative victory over a corrupt ruling party sends a deeper message: Hondurans have not given up hope for honest governance.

Voter turnout in the election was more than 68%, compared with an average 57%. And that is in a country where confidence in democracy is the lowest in Latin America, according to a recent Latinobarómetro poll, and one with the second-highest poverty rate in the region after Haiti.

A big part of Ms. Castro’s allure was that she promises to invite the United Nations to help root out corruption in what has become a narco-state during the 12-year rule of President Juan Orlando Hernández and his right-wing National Party. In the United States, Mr. Hernández has been cited as a co-conspirator in various drug trafficking trials, with his brother having been sentenced to life in a U.S. prison last March. In 2018, an estimated 12.5% of the country’s gross domestic product was siphoned off by corruption, according to the Honduran Social Forum on Foreign Debt and Development.

“Never again will the power be abused in this country,” Ms. Castro told supporters.

In an election widely seen as a referendum on corruption, the outcome could also spell hope for curbing the exodus of Hondurans. Nearly half of Central Americans apprehended at the U.S. southwest border this year are from the country, many of them arriving as families.

The Biden administration has created two task forces to curb corruption in Central America. It is also focusing much of a $4 billion aid package for the region on fighting high-level graft. If Ms. Castro can make good on her proposed anti-corruption reforms, that U.S. money might be well spent in Honduras. Its people have chosen hope over despair.

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