The antagonistic models of Xiomara Castro and Asfura face off at the polls in Honduras

The equestrian statue of the liberator Francisco Morazán that stands in the central square of Tegucigalpa, these days wears a headscarf in which the name Xiomara Castro is read. Some spontaneous climbed for the bronze and placed on the head of the hero as if he were a tennis player propaganda of the woman who can win this Sunday the elections to the presidency of Honduras that he disputes with the conservative Nasry Asfura.

The two -Castro and the statue- separately drag two legends with which they carry from their origin. Eduardo Galeano told in his book The Open Veins of Latin America the origin of the statue that stands in the heart of the country. It was in 1882 when the government of Marco Aurelio Soto commissioned a commission of notables to travel to Paris in search of a sculptor to commission a statue to honor the great liberator of Central America. The commission left with the order and with several bags of silver coins for payment, but during the days that the search lasted, the group of notables deviated from their original mission. Attracted by the pleasures and entertainments of the French capital, little by little they were spending the money. Seeing that the return date was approaching, the group of illustrious people decided to go to a flea market where they bought at a good price the statue of a French soldier from Napoleon’s Army that was finally sent to Tegucigalpa. When Gabriel García Márquez traveled to Stockholm to collect the Nobel Prize, he recalled the anecdote to illustrate Latin American magical realism. “The monument to General Francisco Morazán, erected in the main square of Tegucigalpa, is actually a statue of Marshal Ney bought in Paris in a warehouse of used sculptures,” said the Colombian. It was no use that Galeano was dismissed years later and apologized for the error. The damage was already done.

The first time that Hondurans learned of Xiomara Castro was in the summer of 2009 when she mobilized to defend the government of her husband, Manuel Zelaya, who was expelled from power and the country by a coup d’état by businessmen and the military in collusion. Until then, Castro had flawlessly fulfilled the role that Latin America reserves for presidential wives: to smile, open hospitals and visit the poor, who in Honduras make up 70% of the population. But, after the fall of her husband, she took a step forward that continues to this day. In one of the turbulent days after the coup, Castro tried to reunite with her husband on the border with Nicaragua, but was intercepted by the military to prevent her and her followers from organizing a political event. That day she endured for hours, sitting in the trunk of the car with her feet dangling, for the uniformed men to let her pass. Humiliated and with her daughter holding hands, the former first lady was the picture of defeat after the overthrow of her husband for flirting with Hugo Chávez, approaching Cuba and breaking one law after another. Twelve years later, she may be president of the country and the girl in pigtails is one step away from being a deputy. It has been of little use for her to insist that it is not her husband’s transmission belt and that it brings a new message away from the Sao Paulo Forum.

Banners and posts of the presidential candidate of the National Party Nasry Asfura. FREDY RODRIGUEZ (Reuters)

This Sunday more than five million Hondurans, 70% of them under 39 years of age, vote to elect a new president, 128 deputies and mayors in an atmosphere full of tension. The country, of ten million inhabitants, faces two opposing paths: Castro’s left, at the head of the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Libre), and the popular mayor of Tegucigalpa Nasry Asfura. Asfura presents himself as a close man, fleeing from tension and offering to modernize the country with public works as he has done with Tegucigalpa, filling it with bridges, tunnels and roundabouts. His campaign combines the slogan of “work, work and work” with “Homeland yes, communism no.” The polls, banned in the country for weeks, describe the worst scenario for an exhausted country: the tie between the two candidates.

Experts agree that this Sunday’s elections represent the climax of a political crisis that began twelve years earlier, after the coup. And, in the street, Hondurans seem to agree on one thing: there will be protests on Monday. This Saturday, banks, car dealerships or simple shoe stores and grocery stores finished protecting the windows of their businesses. Supermarkets also experienced long lines of families stocking up on food.

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The country context doesn’t help. In recent months, two hurricanes have hit in a row, gas, gasoline and the most basic foods have risen and, for years, Honduras has been a machine for expelling caravans of young people to the United States. If nothing remedies it, the year will end with 700,000 new poor, according to the World Bank. In recent months, the name of the president, Juan Orlando Hernández, has been cited in a New York court linked to the drug cartels and Asfura, his party’s candidate, appeared in the Pandora Papers. The third candidate, Yani Rosenthal, is campaigning after spending three years in prison in the United States for money laundering. Linked to one of the most powerful families in the country, the Rosenthals, his campaign has been focused on convincing voters that he knows the suffering and needs of the people from below now that he has passed through jail. More than motives, Hondurans seem to have reasons for outrage.

Statue of the Central American hero Francisco Morazan with a diadem made of campaign material of the Free Party presidential candidate Xiomara Castro.
Statue of the Central American hero Francisco Morazan with a diadem made of campaign material of the Free Party presidential candidate Xiomara Castro.Camilo Freedman (Getty Images)

Two data bring the match even closer to gasoline on a day like today: almost half of the voters are under 29 years old and Honduras is the Latin American country where fewer people believe that democracy is better than dictatorship, barely 30% .

Eight months of the electoral campaign have given ample evidence of the electoral environment. Although murders have dropped from 86 to 35 per 100,000 inhabitants, homicides for political purposes have increased threefold compared to the last elections in 2017. The campaign has killed 23 candidates, according to figures from the Human Rights office of United Nations. According to Isabel Albadalejo, representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “this is a particularly high figure compared to neighboring countries, including Mexico and Colombia,” she says. “Honduras has been in permanent crisis during the last decade and we are witnessing with concern the political violence and the criminalization that is taking place of peaceful protests,” he explains in an interview with EL PAÍS about the reforms of the penal code that punish protests with jail in the streets, a last minute reform in anticipation of what may happen from tomorrow.

Observing from a distance, the United States is the other big player in the elections. Honduras is a headache for the region and, beyond the caravans that cross Mexico and Guatemala, the United States disputes the role that Joe Biden will play in what was his backyard. Faced with Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua and estranged from Nayib Bukele’s El Salvador, the United States has lost weight in a region that it traditionally controlled. Honduras is one of the 15 countries in the world that, in exchange for money and aid, maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan, dispensing with China, but a possible victory for Castro would open the doors of China.

Nasry Asfura, presidential candidate of the National Party, during a rally in Tegucigalpa.
Nasry Asfura, presidential candidate of the National Party, during a rally in Tegucigalpa. FREDY RODRIGUEZ (Reuters)

Thousands of kilometers from China, in the central park of Tegucigalpa, the imposing statue of Morazán on the back of his horse presided over a lively square this Saturday where couples strolled in front of the church, families bought cotton and shoe polishers moved frantically the rag. The tension that is breathed these days in political speeches and social networks predicting the Apocalypse did not seem to alter the placid Saturday rhythm. The only indignant is the spontaneous one who turns on himself before the doubts generated by the statue. “Don’t you see that it has the shield of Central America on the buttons?” He says, pointing to a needle in a haystack.

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The antagonistic models of Xiomara Castro and Asfura face off at the polls in Honduras