Rival factions of Honduras’ newly elected congress held duelling first sessions Tuesday, as a split in president-elect Xiomara Castro’s party deepened two days before her swearing-in.
Deputy Luis Redondo, who has the support of Castro and much of her leftist Libre party, took office as president of the Congress in the building that houses the legislative body.
As promised in advance by the military high command, the session was attended by an escort of cadets from the armed forces in a show of recognition of Castro’s authority.
In parallel and via video link, rebel deputy Jorge Calix was also installed as head of Congress by his own loyalist faction, including 20 dissident deputies from Libre and most members of the right-wing National Party (PN) and the Liberal Party, opponents of Castro.
More than 70 of the 128 deputies in the legislative assembly took part in the virtual session. In Redondo’s case, the quorum of 65 deputies was completed by bolstering numbers with substitute lawmakers standing in.
The crisis broke out last Friday when a group of Libre dissidents ignored an agreement with the Savior Party of Honduras (PSH), whose support was key to winning the November elections.
The pact had pledged support for the PSH’s Redondo to be named president of Congress, but dissidents backed Calix, arguing that Congress should be led by the party with the most members — Libre has 50 deputies compared to just 10 for the Savior party.
“I want to thank the Libre Party deputies, who obviously outnumber the PSH deputies… for being loyal to their party’s commitment,” Redondo said at his investiture.
Castro accuses the dissidents of allying with the National Party of outgoing president Juan Orlando Hernandez to prevent the changes she promised in her campaign, including the restitution of laws against impunity that were rolled back by the previous administration.
Redondo in the session brandished a copy of the official gazette where his appointment was announced, but the official responsible for the publication said the announcement had been printed without his permission.
Despite having been expelled from Libre, Calix voiced his support for Castro and her agenda to fight corruption and drug trafficking.
“She has my support frankly, so that she goes down in history as the best president this country has ever had,” Calix said.
In their virtual session, the Calix faction took receipt of the official final report from outgoing president Hernandez.
They even debated and repealed a law preventing disclosure of information on public expenditures under the pretexts of national security.
Call for calm
Castro needs a firm majority to implement her anti-corruption and political reform platform during her four-year term.
She was elected on November 28 to become the first woman president of Honduras and end 12 years of right-wing National Party rule.
She is the wife of Manuel Zelaya, a former president who was deposed in a 2009 coup supported by the military, business elites and the political right.
Castro’s victory hinged on her alliance with the PSH, which will see its leader Salvador Nasralla named vice president.
She has invited Redondo to preside over her swearing-in on Thursday, which US Vice President Kamala Harris is due to attend.
“We call on political actors to remain calm, to engage in dialogue, to refrain from violence and provocative rhetoric,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington on Monday.
But the uncertainty in Congress has created a legitimacy crisis around Castro, with analysts saying the ceremony could be delayed.
Redondo claimed Monday that “someone from the American embassy contacted me, and we will be talking to them.” Honduran media reported that Calix also received a call from the US embassy — which he did not confirm.
Dissident congressman Yahve Sabillon told local media that representatives for Calix and Redondo had met to seek an agreement.
AFP could not independently verify this information, but former president Zelaya, who is a key coordinator for Libre, said talks were underway with the rebel faction.
“We have a communication with this dissident group. They are all friends. We are always talking to them and looking for ways out,” he said. “Logically we support Luis Redondo, but we are always open to seeking integration and dialogue,” he added.
by Moises Avila with Eva Rodriguez