Honduras Votes for President as Drug Violence Crimps Growth

According to Bloomberg,

Hondurans choose a new president and Congress today as the world’s highest rate of violent crime crimps economic growth in the country four years after a military coup ousted former President Manuel Zelaya.

Polls show the race in a statistical tie between the ruling National Party’s Juan Orlando Hernandez, 45, and Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, who heads the newly formed Libre party. Both candidates have vowed to improve security after a surge in murders fueled by drug gangs linked to Mexican cartels. Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time and will close at 5 p.m.

Castro, 54, is seeking to break a century-long grip on the presidential palace by the country’s two traditional parties. She has tapped into frustration from the coup, during which she led protests to have her husband returned from exile. Hernandez led the national assembly when Zelaya was ousted for backing a referendum to change the constitution.

In the eight-candidate race, no party is expected to win a majority in the legislature.

“It’s going to be difficult for whoever wins to govern,” said Geoff Thale, director of the Washington Office on Latin America.

Bordered by Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, Honduras has a murder rate of more than 80 per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest in the world, according to the United Nations. The U.S. State Department estimated that last year about 90 percent of all cocaine smuggling flights departing South America for the U.S. first land in Honduras, where illegal airstrips abound in poorly patrolled parts of the country.

International Observers

The government plans to deploy 14,000 soldiers and police to safeguard the process, while almost 750 international observers will monitor the vote. Current President Porfirio Lobo is barred from seeking re-election and whoever gets the most votes wins. There is no second round.

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