Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas
Elections 2021

Meet the Candidates: Honduras

Criminal investigations and fears of fraud loom over this year’s presidential election.

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Little is certain in the race to become Honduras’ next president. Current President Juan Orlando Hernández, re-elected in 2017 in what critics say is a fraudulent second term, is not running again. However, criminal investigations into Hernández and others in his circle loom over the race, with some suggesting the government would do whatever it takes to ensure the ruling National Party stays in power. Recent piecemeal electoral reforms also offer little in the way of ensuring a clean election in November. Still, experts believe the opposition stands a chance if it unites. Below, AQ profiles the candidates of Honduras’ leading parties, Nasry Asfura, Xiomara Castro, and Yani Rosenthal, who were the apparent winners in party primaries on March 14. Official results are pending. Opposition heavyweight Salvador Nasralla, who finished second in the 2017 election, is included as well. The election is scheduled for November 28, 2021. Whoever gets the most votes in the one-round election will win the presidency.

AQ also asked a dozen nonpartisan experts on Honduras to help us identify where each candidate stands on two spectrums: left wing versus right wing, and nationalist versus globalist. The results are mapped on charts below. We’ve published the average response, with a caveat: Platforms evolve, and so do candidates.

We will occasionally update this page to reflect developments in the campaigns, including the rise of new contenders.

Nasry Asfura | Xiomara Castro | Salvador Nasralla | Yani Rosenthal

Nasry
Asfura

62, mayor of Tegucigalpa

National Party

“I have absolutely nothing to hide.”

HOW HE GOT HERE

A veteran of the National Party with ties to President Hernández, Nasry “Tito” Asfura had a career in local politics and served as a deputy in Congress before becoming mayor of the capital, Tegucigalpa, in 2014. His time as mayor has been marked by messy urban growth – he has won popularity through infrastructure projects, but the city has lost some 400 trees during his tenure.

WHY HE MIGHT WIN

Asfura is a seasoned politician who is well liked by constituents in the capital and even critics admit he’s charming. The National Party, meanwhile, operates as a well-oiled machine in Honduras’ urban peripheries and rural areas. In the case of a close election, some analysts believe the party could manipulate vote counts to push Asfura over the top.

WHY HE MIGHT LOSE

If set against TV star Salvador Nasralla, camera-shy Asfura could have a problem. Ongoing investigations in the U.S. into President Hernández also stand to alienate the National Party among middle class voters, and Asfura himself is under investigation for embezzling over $1 million in city funds as mayor.

Asfura could also lose if the opposition manages to unite. The National Party only won the past two elections with a minority of the vote in amid a split opposition. History also isn’t on his side: No single party has managed to win the presidency for a fourth consecutive term since Honduras transitioned from military rule in 1982.

WHO SUPPORTS HIM

Asfura draws his support from public employees, top brass in the military and police forces, residents of Tegucigalpa, evangelical voters, and business elites, especially those who have benefited from investments he has facilitated as mayor. The National Party’s history of clientelism also strengthens his support among poor and rural voters.

WHAT HE WOULD DO

Asfura is the status quo candidate in this year’s election. He is likely to continue his predecessor’s efforts to try to make Honduras more friendly to foreign investment. But he may also seek to shield National Party officials, including Hernández, from prosecution over corruption allegations – something that could alienate the new administration in the United States, Honduras’ biggest investor.

IDEOLOGY

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Xiomara
Castro

61, former presidential candidate and wife of former President Manuel Zelaya

Liberty and Refoundation (LIBRE)

“The time has come for a woman to take the reins of this country.”

HOW SHE GOT HERE

Xiomara Castro de Zelaya led the movement protesting the 2009 coup that deposed her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya. Formerly of the Liberal Party, the Zelayas founded their own party, LIBRE, in 2011. Castro’s second-place finish as LIBRE’s candidate in the 2013 presidential race signaled a shift away from the two-party system long dominated by the Liberal and National parties. During his presidency, Zelaya moved to the left in step with similar shifts in the region at the time.

WHY SHE MIGHT WIN

Voters may remember the decline in poverty during her husband’s presidency – a trend that reversed after the coup. But to be elected, she will need to emerge as the leader of a singular opposition coalition. She otherwise risks splitting the opposition vote in Honduras’ single-round election. To that end, she benefits from divisions within the Liberal Party and possible hesitancy from opposition figure Salvador Nasralla, who LIBRE supported in the 2017 election.

WHY SHE MIGHT LOSE

The Zelayas’ ties to the late Hugo Chávez of Venezuela are likely to scare independent voters. The only woman in the race, she is also subject to sexist stereotypes and accusations that she is just a proxy for her husband, who brings baggage to her candidacy. On March 11, an ex-leader of a drug trafficking clan testified in a U.S. court that he paid $500,000 in bribes to then-President Zelaya in 2006.

WHO SUPPORTS HER

LIBRE is a big tent party representing a range of ideologies. It includes former Liberal Party members, rural farmers, labor leaders and public university students. The Liberal Party’s Yani Rosenthal is close to the Zelayas, which may lead to a coalition between that party and LIBRE.

WHAT SHE WOULD DO

Castro would draw Honduras closer to Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro – and further away from the U.S., a longtime partner to Honduras. She promotes an alternative economic system to free-market capitalism and would likely push for a constituent assembly to rewrite Honduras’ constitution.

IDEOLOGY

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Salvador
Nasralla

68, TV personality and businessman

Salvador de Honduras

“The government of Honduras is run by organized crime.”

HOW HE GOT HERE

Salvador Nasralla says on his Twitter bio that he was the victor of the presidential election in 2017, when he ran a tight race against Hernandez and, as he alleges, was cheated out of the office. An engineer who studied in Chile before serving as a Pepsi executive and university professor, Nasralla became a household name through his later work as a sports commentator and game show host. He founded the Anti-Corruption Party in 2011 but was expelled over an internal dispute in 2016. In 2020, Nasralla founded the Salvador de Honduras Party, a play on his name and the Spanish word for savior.

WHY HE MIGHT WIN

The third time might be the charm for the well-known Nasralla, who ran in 2013 and in 2017. In his second bid, Nasralla capitalized on widespread anger over alleged government corruption. Like the other non-National Party candidates, his success will depend on his ability to unite a divided opposition. He will meet with other opposition figures in May to define an electoral coalition. Many expect him to align with Luis Zelaya of the Liberal Party.

WHY HE MIGHT LOSE

He’s a politically incorrect showman and some call him a misogynist and charlatan. His party isn’t as well organized as others in the opposition, and he could struggle to gain the support of Manuel Zelaya’s LIBRE party. Nasralla and LIBRE worked as partners in the 2017 coalition, but he and Zelaya suffered a falling out soon after.

WHO SUPPORTS HIM

Support for Nasralla is strongest in San Pedro Sula. He attracts young and independent voters who are disaffected by politics-as-usual. Many members of the Liberal Party are likely to support him.

WHAT HE WOULD DO

Nasralla represents a break with establishment politics, and anti-corruption is his calling card. He’s expected to lead a judicial reckoning with the outgoing administration, though many of the power structures left over from the National Party will impede him initially. He has promised to make it easier for Hondurans living abroad to vote.

IDEOLOGY

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Yani
Rosenthal

55, businessman, former government minister, convicted money launderer

Liberal Party

“Hondurans understand that my case wasn’t just. I don’t feel that they look at me with stigma.”

HOW HE GOT HERE

Yani Rosenthal is a businessman who comes from one of Honduras’ richest and most powerful families: His father was a vice president, a congressman, four-time presidential candidate, and the founder of the Continental Group, a conglomerate of businesses. Rosenthal has a long history of Liberal Party politics, having served as a deputy in Congress and later as a top minister to President Manuel Zelaya. In 2017, Rosenthal was sentenced to three years in U.S. prison for laundering drug money, a sentence he completed in 2020, just in time to run for president.

WHY HE MIGHT WIN

Rosenthal is a known figure who inherits support from his father. He has close ties to Manuel Zelaya and Xiomara Castro, so a coalition with their LIBRE party could make his candidacy competitive, though that scenario is more likely to end with Castro as the candidate.

WHY HE MIGHT LOSE

The Liberal Party has lost its momentum in recent elections, and internal divisions could hurt Rosenthal’s chances — primary opponent and party president Luis Zelaya has said he would never support him. Ultimately, a convicted felon who is sanctioned by the U.S. and can’t travel there faces serious challenges in becoming a competitive candidate for the presidency, but it’s still early in the race.

WHO SUPPORTS HIM

People from San Pedro Sula and business elites who support the Liberal Party because of a family history of support, among others.

WHAT HE WOULD DO

Some expect Rosenthal to form an alliance with the LIBRE party and support Xiomara Castro’s candidacy. If he remains in the race and ekes out a win, he’s expected to pursue business-friendly policies and avoid making changes to the constitution (Castro supports making constitutional changes, see below). He has promised to try to halt migration by creating jobs and said he would call for a referendum to allow voters to decide on the legality of abortion, same-sex marriage and drugs.

IDEOLOGY

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Tags: Elections 2021, Honduras
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