ROME – Catholic bishops in Honduras are urging newly elected president Iris Xiomara Castro, 62, to work for the poorest and promote authentic development in the Central American country.
Castro’s win in the Nov. 28 election was confirmed on Dec. 6.
“We hope that the next four years represent for the Hondurans a time of new opportunities and enjoyment of their legitimate rights,” says the message from the bishops’ conference.
The prelates also said that they have “the firm conviction that it must be a priority for the next Government to implement and strengthen the exercise of dialogue, reconciliation and action, because Honduras needs and demands it.”
They also said they hope that elected officials will work for the common good and have the capacity to project Honduras towards a prosperous future.
When the first female president of Honduras takes office on January 27, she will face a number of daunting challenges: Restoring the country’s battered democratic institutions, tackling widespread corruption, and recovering from the crises caused by COVID-19 and last year’s devastating hurricanes.
Nasry Asfura, her political rival, acknowledged the defeat and congratulated Castro, of the left-wing Libre Party, even before the count was over.
Castro had a 14-point lead over her closest opponent – giving her a strong mandate to make the drastic changes that many Hondurans want to see.
The democratic institutions of the country were shaken 12 years ago, when a 2009 coup removed Castro’s husband, Manuel Zelaya, from office. Successive conservative governments have gutted social programs, increased militarization, and been accused of launching a systematic attack on human rights and the environment.
This has led to thousands of Hondurans fleeing their country towards the United States, fleeing crushing poverty, violence and a series of natural disasters.
According to the World Bank’s latest statistics – from 2019 – about half of the population lived on less than $5.50 a day. Conditions have only gotten worse with the COVID-19 pandemic, as the economy contracted by an estimated 9 percent.
The task ahead would be daunting for any leader, but in her celebratory speech Castro promised to “form a government of reconciliation” and to “guarantee a participatory and direct democracy.”
Her campaign platform was focused on fighting corruption and a promise to end what she has described as a “narco state.” Allegations that the ruling National Party aided drug traffickers and looted public funds have further aggravated public frustrations.
The bishops congratulated the president-elect for her victory, and also expressed their hopes that she will “exercise [a] public administration that promotes authentic development and growth of our country and of each Honduran family, seeking the good of the poorest and most excluded, in authentic respect for the dignity of the human person, the right to human life, from conception to natural death, as well as respect for the sacred institution of marriage and family.”
“Our hope is that this reconstruction of a developing Honduras will continue in peace, with respect for life and the dignity of the person,” the prelates said.
The pro-life issue might be one in which the bishops and the newly elected government clash, since Castro has promised to ease the country’s strict ban on abortion and legalize it in cases of rape, when the health of the mother is at risk or if the child shows malformations.
It has been illegal to terminate a pregnancy in Honduras under any circumstance since 1985. Earlier this year, Congress explicitly added the abortion ban to the constitution. This move means that in order to make any changes to the abortion law, three quarters of Congress would have to vote in favor of it.
In their message, the bishops also expressed their “regret and sincere concern” for the “innumerable voices” that have alleged “fraud has taken place” in the votes for local authorities and members of the national legislature.
“We call upon the responsible entities to pay due attention to these claims and to resolve them in an expeditious manner and following the law. For the good of our country, there can be no doubt about transparency in the vote count and respect for the decision of the voters,” the bishops wrote.
They also said that the Catholic Church has always supported the just development of the people, based on the solid foundation of the fundamental human and Christian values of each person and society.
In this sense, they indicated that they are ready to cooperate with the president on many of the issues she has indicated as a priority, including the eradication of poverty, the fight against impunity, the generation of jobs, and the improvement of the health and education systems.