Honduras elections: What would the leading candidate's policies look like?

Presidential candidate Xiomara Castro envisions a 'new Honduras,' recalling initiatives of her husband, ousted former President Manuel Zelaya, like convening a constitutional assembly.

Alberto Arce/AP
Presidential candidate Xiomara Castro gives her speech during a convention by the Free Party in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Sunday, June 16, 2013.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog. The views expressed are the author's own.

A number of readers have remarked – as have we – on the lack of coverage of [Presidential candidate] Xiomara Castro de Zelaya's positions and campaign in the Honduran (and international) press. As the candidate in the lead for the Honduran presidency according to all polls, you would expect to hear something about what she is advocating.

So it is noteworthy that Monday Sept. 9, La Tribuna covered a campaign event held in Siguatepeque.

Ms. Castro de Zelaya's message was a mixture of pragmatic criticism of the present government, envisioning something new in Honduran politics, and recalling the initiatives of the government led by her husband [Manuel Zelaya] that were for the benefit of the people.

Showing a pragmatic side, she commented on Honduras' slide in international measures of competitiveness, saying that:

[I]t isn't [just] that we fell from 90 to 111, because in the government of Ricardo Maduro we were in position 96, in 2009 during the government of Manuel Zelaya we arrived at position 82, indicating that we had risen 17 points, in 2012 [down] to position 90 and we have arrived at position 111, or that is since the Liberal government of Zelaya we have lost 29 points.

This is a reference to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014reported widely in Honduras this past week. The report identified the top problems for doing business in Honduras as crime and theft, corruption, inefficient government bureaucracy, and policy instability. Decrying these factors, and advocating for greater business competitiveness, is a fairly pro-business position, reminding us that despite being painted as a leftist, Castro de Zelaya's husband came from old Honduran land-owning, ranching, and logging stock.

But the main point of the LIBRE campaign event in Siguatepeque, what made headlines, was Castro de Zelaya gaining support from the cultural sector in Honduras. El Libertador reported that more than 100 artists and writers signed a declaration, read by Helen Umaña, that stated that the artists and writers gave “our confidence, vote and solidarity... with the aim that culture will be the ideological and pragmatic axis” of the government they hope will be elected.

The cultural sector of Honduras has suffered enormous problems under the current administration, many of which began with the de facto regime installed by the 2009 coup. The statement, called the Declaration of Siguatepeque, states that in a century of the collective project of making a more just society, they found that LIBRE and the original Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular established to oppose the de facto regime is the most "truthful, promising, and authentic".

"With the shared certainty that her government will nourish itself from the ubiquitous creativity of we who believe in this country," the artists go on to say:

We ratify, beyond any immediate circumstance, that the re-founding that will occur with the art and culture of our nations, will lead Honduras toward its transformation into an equitable and inclusive, fair and free country.

During the announcement in Siguatepeque, Castro de Zelaya, for her part, discussed the potential to create a "Consejo Nacional de Cultura", described by La Tribuna as:

An autonomous organization that would be composed of all the indigenous groups, workers in the culture sector, and in consensus the policies concerning culture would be formed.

In effect, this would be the next step beyond what former President Zelaya implemented during his term in office, when the Ministry of Culture undertook extensive collaboration with indigenous groups, local historians, and people who never before had been part of shaping cultural policy. This is the kind of social inclusion that made traditional business and political elites uncomfortable.

In this limited sense, the tendency of Honduran (and perhaps even more, international) media to characterize Castro de Zelaya as a candidate who would extend the policies of her husband does help envisage what LIBRE might attempt to do, if she were elected.

Castro de Zelaya has a unique campaign advantage in that relationship: she can claim the successful policies, or even just progressive intentions, that her husband had as part of her political capital. La Tribuna reported her response to a question during the Siguatepeque event that seems way off message, about the lack of a local hospital, that the candidate turned to her advantage neatly:

She responded that in the government of Manuel Zelaya everything was set for the construction of five hospitals across the country with funds from Spain, for the benefit of Siguatepeque, Roatán, Catacamas, Santa Bárbara and Choluteca, but owing to the coup d'etat they were not brought to fruition.

LIBRE was created to carry forward with very specific social policies, some of which will meet fierce political opposition. It is worth recalling what Castro de Zelaya said on Aug. 27, at the launch of the campaign season:

When they place the presidential banner on me, my first words will be: I convene a National Constitutional Assembly, lets go for that new Constitution.

That promise plays a very large part in her appeal to supporters. It is what the artists who signed on to support her see as the potential for transformation unlike any seen in a century.

 – Rosemary Joyce, an anthropologist with more than thirty years research experience in Honduras, co-authors the blog Honduras Culture and Politics, which tracks the complexities of Honduran social life after the 2009 coup.

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