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Honduras elects democratic socialist as first female president, unseating conservative ruling party

Honduran President-elect Xiomara Castro addresses supporters Sunday in Tegucigalpa after the election. (Moises Castillo/AP)
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Democratic socialist Xiomara Castro is poised to become Honduras’s next president after her main rival conceded Tuesday, bringing the country’s left back to power after 12 years of conservative National Party rule, much of it pockmarked by scandal.

Speaking on local television, Nasry Asfura congratulated Castro on her victory and referred to her as president-elect.

Castro, 62, will be the first female president of the Central American country. The wife of Manuel Zelaya, a former president who was removed from office by the military in 2009, Castro ran on an anti-corruption platform with promises to end what she deemed a narco-state.

She will succeed President Juan Orlando Hernández, whose last term in office was clouded by investigations into his alleged ties to drug trafficking. Hernández’s brother, Tony, was sentenced in U.S. federal court this year to life in prison plus 30 years for drug trafficking. Juan Orlando Hernández was implicated in the court filings. He has denied wrongdoing.

It remains unclear whether Hernández will be extradited to the United States, but with a political rival soon to be in power, he appears to have even less cover in Honduras. The country maintains an extradition treaty with the United States that Hernandez himself helped negotiate when he was in congress.

Honduras is now the biggest source of migration to the United States — a fact that critics blame partly on the Hernández administration’s poor governance and an issue Castro will now inherit. While the Biden administration is crafting policy aimed at deterring migration, the Honduran economy depends on money sent home by its citizens working in the United States. Remittances make up roughly 20 percent of the country’s GDP.

“The Honduran people exercised their power to vote in a free and fair election,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday on Twitter. “We congratulate them and President Elect @XiomaraCastroZ and look forward to working together to strengthen democratic institutions, promote inclusive economic growth, and fight corruption.”

Castro has said she would prioritize migration in talks with the Biden administration, but has referred to it “as a social fact and as a right” — an outlook which seems to diverge from the U.S. focus on deterrence. Biden has so far struggled to find leaders in Central America to partner with the administration on migration policy.

Castro will return to the presidential palace more than 12 years after her husband’s ouster. Zelaya, whose leftward political shift brought him closer to Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, drew the rancor of the country’s political and economic elite. He was forced by soldiers onto a plane bound for Costa Rica.

Zelaya was his wife’s campaign manager. His role in her government remains uncertain.

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