2021 Elections in Honduras


2021 Elections in Honduras
Updated November 23, 2021
Honduras is scheduled to hold presidential, congressional, and municipal elections on November 28,
2021. The elections come at a difficult moment for Honduras, as many Hondurans have lost confidence in
their democratic institutions and the country faces a protracted recovery from the Coronavirus Disease
2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, two hurricanes, and a deep recession. Depending on their perceived
legitimacy, the elections could help foster stability in Honduras or could exacerbate the country’s
challenges. The elections also will determine whether the U.S. government will have credible Honduran
partners, with whom it can work to address migration, drug trafficking, and other policy concerns, and
may influence congressional foreign assistance decisions.
Domestic Context
President Juan Orlando Hernández (2014-present) of the conservative National Party (PN) is nearing the
end of his second term and is not seeking a third. Many Hondurans maintain his 2017 reelection was
unconstitutional and the result of electoral fraud. Over the past eight years, Hernández and the PN-
controlled congress have enacted business-friendly economic policies and a series of security- and justice-
sector reforms
while consolidating their influence over the supreme court and other nominally
independent institutions.
In September 2021, 74% of Hondurans surveyed thought the country was on the wrong track. They
identified corruption as the principal problem facing Honduras and unemployment, COVID-19, and crime
as top concerns for their families.
Corruption. Perceptions of corruption have increased as President Hernández and other
current and former government officials have been implicated in various corrupt
including drug trafficking. Although the Honduran government enacted some
anti-corruption measures during Hernández’s first term, it has rolled them back over the
past two years as prosecutors have investigated the president and his congressional allies.
Unemployment. The Honduran economy contracted by an estimated 9% in 2020 due to a
pandemic-driven recession and the damage wrought by two hurricanes. From 2019 to
2020, the unemployment rate increased from 5.7% to 10.9% and the underemployment
rate increased from 60.6% to 70.7%. In September 2021, an estimated 3.3 million people
(a third of Hondurans) were contending with acute food insecurity.
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COVID-19. As of November 22, 2021, Honduras had recorded more than 377,000 cases
and 10,300 deaths from COVID-19, though some experts argue there may be significant
The country’s vaccine rollout has been slower than the global average,
with 40% of the population fully vaccinated as of November 22.
Crime. Homicide and crime victimization rates have declined over the past decade but
remain high by regional standards and have increased over the past year.
Election Dynamics
Although polls suggest most Hondurans are ready for change after 12 consecutive years of PN rule, they
also suggest the PN remains the country’s most popular party. The political opposition has splintered
since a 2009 coup split the centrist Liberal Party (PL) and prompted the creation of the leftist Liberty and
Re-foundation (LIBRE) party. The launch of the Savior of Honduras Party (PSH)—a personality-driven
and anti-corruption-focused party led by 2017 presidential runner-up Salvador Nasralla—further fractured
the opposition.
Given those divisions, the PN’s candidate, Tegucigalpa mayor Nasry “Tito” Asfura, initially was favored
to win the presidency. In October 2021, however, Nasralla forged a coalition with LIBRE’s Xiomara
Castro, withdrawing from the presidential race to serve as her running mate. A poll conducted afterward
found Castro leading the race with 38% support, followed by Asfura at 21%, and the PL’s Yani Rosenthal
at 3%; most of the remainder were undecided. Another poll reportedly found Castro and Asfura locked in
a tight race. Whereas Asfura would likely maintain the status quo, Castro has called for a U.N.-backed
anti-corruption commission, diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, legalized abortion
under certain circumstances, and a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution, among other policy
The high level of uncertainty, combined with Hondurans’ lack of confidence in their elections, could
undermine the legitimacy of the results and could spark a cycle of social unrest and repression similar to
what occurred in the aftermath of 2017 elections. Since September 2020, the U.N. Human Rights Office
in Honduras has recorded 63 cases of political violence, including 29 killings. The U.S. State Department
has condemned the violence and called for “free, fair, transparent, and peaceful elections.” The
Organization of American States and the European Union have dispatched electoral observation missions
to Honduras to strengthen the transparency and credibility of the process.
Implications for the United States
Difficult living conditions and periodic instability in Honduras have contributed to relatively high levels
of displacement and emigration. In FY2021, U.S. authorities at the Southwest border encountered more
than 319,000 Hondurans, o
r 3.2% of the Honduran population. Systemic corruption and weak rule of law
also contribute to Honduras’s status as a major drug transit country.

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The Biden Administration has sought to collaborate with Honduras and other Central American countries
to manage migration flows and address the underlying conditions that push people to leave the region.
The Administration proposed allocating $4 billion of assistance to Central America over four years and
requested $861 million—including at least $95.8 million for Honduras—for FY2022. Some Members of
Congress are skeptical of funding such efforts, arguing that corruption is deeply entrenched and the
United States lacks credible government partners in the region.
In July 2021, the Biden Administration imposed visa sanctions on 21 current and former Honduran
who allegedly have engaged in corruption or undemocratic actions, pursuant to the United
States-Northern Triangle Enhanced Engagement Act (P.L. 116-260). President Hernández was not among
those identified, despite U.S. Department of Justice allegations that he accepted bribes to protect drug
traffickers. The targeted sanctions do not appear to have resulted in greater cooperation from the
Honduran congress, which has continued to impede anti-corruption efforts.
If Honduran officials elected in November 2021 prove unwilling to address corruption and other deep-
seated challenges, U.S. policymakers could opt to scale back support to the Honduran government and/or
redirect U.S. assistance to civil society. More broadly, U.S. policymakers may reevaluate whether and
how they can achieve their objectives in Central America.

Author Information

Peter J. Meyer

Specialist in Latin American and Canadian Affairs

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