When Hondurans elected Xiomara Castro in 2021 as president they got a two-for-one special. Bolstered by a shrewd electoral alliance, Castro delivered a second term of her husband Manuel “Mel” Zelaya—president from 2006 until removed by the military in 2009.
Given Zelaya’s predilection for dictatorship and rewriting the Honduran Constitution, history is repeating itself. Further, the specter of UN-backed lawfare means Honduras is on a precarious path towards a confrontation between the Zelaya-led alliance and the military, judiciary, or any other institution that might restore order.
Zelaya is pulling the strings in the Castro tenure and is general coordinator of the incumbent Libre Party, which he cofounded in 2011. Libre is his vehicle for “democratic socialism” and a “national constituent assembly.” Libre has made no secret of its communist intentions and even celebrated 64 years since the Cuban Revolution.
The latest incident in Zelaya’s quest for hegemony is the National Congress’s failure to elect 15 members of the Supreme Court for the 2023–2030 term. Libre has used its congressional plurality and influence with the nominating commission to impede everyone except Libre partisans. Justice appointments need a supermajority, so the Congress has been in a stalemate for three weeks and missed the initial January 25 deadline.
As TV executive and lawyer Rodrigo Wong Arévalo has explained, Libre wants a paralyzed Congress and no Supreme Court: “The end goal out of this chaos is a slate of judges who think and act with one mind in line with Castro and Zelaya.”
Lawless before Taking Office
The events in the National Congress that preceded Castro’s inauguration defy belief and read like a telenovela. Zelaya instigated a constitutional crisis before Castro even took office.
The National Congress elected Libre Congressman Jorge Cálix as their president on January 21, 2022—one week before Castro’s inauguration. However, Cálix achieved this by forming an alliance with opposition parties and 18 congressmen from his own party. His election was contrary to the wishes of Castro and Zelaya, who had a deal with Vice President Salvador Nasralla to elect Congressman Luis Redondo.
Honduran legislators named two congressional presidents in separate ceremonies, and Zelaya-Castro loyalists started a tantrum-induced fight at Cálix’s swearing in. Eager to use violence to control the legislative agenda—an authority vested in the congressional president—the Zelaya-Castro loyalists shouted, waved their communist fists, and nearly halted the process. As their fists found victims, Cálix fled for safety.
Zelaya leaned on the physical intimidation to get Cálix, after two weeks, to supposedly agree to hand over the reins to Redondo. Despite there being no vote, Redondo claims to be congressional president. He has written this in all-caps on his Twitter bio, as though shouting it makes it true. Readers of the El Heraldo newspaper, in return, voted him the 2022 villain of Honduras.
Redondo is the appointee of caudillos who ousted the democratically appointed congressional president. Honduras has an illegitimate but de facto congressional president and a legitimate but fearful congressional president going along with the charade.
This constitutional crisis is known to both the president and the judiciary. In a bizarre twist, the crisis threatened to undermine Castro’s own inauguration. On January 27, 2022, Castro tacitly accepted that Redondo was not the congressional president and could not lead the inauguration. Castro proceeded with the judge of Honduras’s Sentencing Tribunal: Karla Romero.
Pretender Redondo, however, could not resist the temptation to impose his presence as the mal tercio. Standing alongside the president, her granddaughter, and the judge—as Romero read the inauguration script—Redondo asked to be mentioned as the congressional president. Romero gave a dirty look and said that “engineer” Redondo was present. A bystander interrupted and asked why Redondo was not leading the inauguration. Romero responded curtly that the constitution prohibited it.
The Writing on the Wall
The Zelaya-Castro power grab for a Nicaragua- or Cuba-style dictatorship is heating up. La Tribuna Columnist Carolina Alduvín’s scathing review of Castro’s first year contends that even “feminazis” no longer back her agenda. Rather, her regime now runs on nepotism, politicized justice, and crony patronage.
The bone thrown to partisans has been the extradition of former President Juan Orlando Hernández. Although less inclined towards socialism, Hernández also disregarded the Honduran Constitution when it suited him, most notably when he pried reelection from the Supreme Court on specious grounds.
There are two ominous developments on the horizon, as ratified by Libre: (1) the installation of a UN-backed International Mission against Corruption and Impunity (CICIH), which was mutually agreed to in December 2022, and (2) the “refounding of the democratic socialist state.”
The CICIH is akin to Guatemala’s defunct CICIG (2006–2019). Purportedly in existence to promote the rule of law, the CICIG became a tool for lawfare against progressives’ political opponents. The CICIH has yet to operate, but there is little chance it will target friends of Castro and Zelaya. Even leftist El Faro in El Salvador has noted the “amnesty law approved in March  by Castro’s party … [granted] immunity to former officials from the administration of her husband and former president Mel Zelaya, now the government’s shadow power broker.”
The effort for a socialist transformation is worse. Backed by late dictator Hugo Chávez, Zelaya’s efforts to rewrite the Honduran Constitution to allow presidential reelection were precisely what sparked his removal in 2009. Although messy, this removal was requested by the Supreme Court and approved by the National Congress. The military leadership were amenable to carrying out the task to avoid Honduras becoming a little Venezuela with comparable misery.
The situation is growing eerily similar, but now the call is more profound than reelection. Fundamental reformulation of the Honduran Constitution is a ploy to bring socialist revolution without guerrilla warfare. The thinly veiled goal is a Zelaya-Castro dynasty akin to the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship in Nicaragua. Constitutional lawyer Juan Carlos Barrientos explains that Libre “used to talk about a dictatorship, because in the previous administration [Hernández] had all of the powers, but now that they are governing they want to be dictators too.”
Barrientos is not the only one noticing. Vice President Nasralla got his position through an electoral alliance but has fallen out of love. A political opportunist, he knows the Zelaya-Castro couple as well as anyone, and he has warned of a socialist future in Honduras. He fears Libre will violate the law to pack the Supreme Court, control all three branches of government, and introduce constitutional reforms.
The Zelaya-Castro lawlessness and anticapitalism are halting the investment and growth necessary to reverse Honduran emigration. Escaping this constitutional crisis will not be easy, but there is optimism to be found in the dissent within Libre and opposition parties. The socialists are resorting to violence, intimidation, and rule breaking because they do not have sufficient support to achieve their agenda peacefully. Hondurans need not bow to the tyrannical minority and must use lawful means to nip the Zelaya-Castro agenda in the bud.
Managing Editor: Fergus Hodgson is the director of Econ Americas, a financial and economic consultancy. He holds an MBA in finance from Rice University and bachelor’s degrees in economics and political science from Boston University and the University of Waikato. He was the founding editor in chief of the PanAm Post. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.