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World Headlines

Honduras holds presidential elections after difficult year for the country

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We turn now to Honduras, where voters will head to the polls to pick a new president tomorrow. It has been a tough year for the country - had to deal with not only a pandemic but also two hurricanes and relentless political corruption and an exodus of its people. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Rafael Melgar's small two-room house that he shares with his wife and three small kids sits right below a large, earthen levee separating a sprawling, poor neighborhood from a mile-long flood-control canal. When the hurricanes hit last year, the levee broke.

RAFAEL MELGAR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He says he and his family barely got out. They trudged through the mud and water up to their necks, with their kids held above their heads.

MELGAR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Our ancestors talk about that exodus in the Bible," he says. "We lived it in the flesh."

They lost everything. He got no help from the government. His family only returned to the house a few months ago, but he says he's ready to leave again.

MELGAR: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "It's the fear of living in this country," he says. Gangs robbed his elderly neighbors, and he can't find work. Melgar says once the elections are over, he's heading for Los Angeles. He lived there before, working without documents as a security guard in Hollywood. Many Hondurans are doing the same. The latest figures show a big jump in the number of Hondurans crossing the U.S. Southern border.

DILSIA CARRANZA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: There are no good options in the election, says 48-year-old Dilsia Carranza. She owns a small electronics shop downtown. The economy contracted last year by 10%, and as many as half a million jobs were lost.

CARRANZA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: And now, with the country on edge over the election, she says, she isn't selling much. She wants the ruling party out.

Much of voters' wrath is focused on Honduras's current president, Juan Orlando Hernandez. He's been in office for eight years after he maneuvered a change to the Constitution to allow for his reelection in 2017. A New York court recently sentenced his brother to life in prison for drug trafficking. Hernandez himself was implicated but denies any involvement. He's mocked frequently on social media about the alleged ties.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Juanchi, Juanchi, Juanchi.

KAHN: In this viral video, the president, derisively called Juanchi, is taunted about being extradited for his own trial in New York. Jokes aside, distaste for Hernandez is deep. The opposition is leading in polls, united around a former first lady, Xiomara Castro.

SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

XIOMARA CASTRO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: At a recent campaign closer, Castro told the crowd she'll end the suffering Hondurans have endured since her husband was ousted from power in a coup in 2009. The opposition tries to cast her as a radical leftist and tire to her husband, who faced bribery allegations. She says she'll help the poor and create an anti-corruption commission. For his part, the ruling party's candidate, the two-term mayor of the capital, Nasry Asfura, doesn't talk a lot about corruption.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NASRY ASFURA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He just says he's different, like at his closing rally this week in an attempt to distance himself from the current president. But Asfura himself was accused of misappropriating city funds, a charge he denies.

The race remains close, and many are on edge, worried about a repeat of the post-electoral violence and fraud allegations of 2017. Businesses are boarding their windows around town.

Javier Perdomo is 21 years old and works at a downtown barbershop.

JAVIER PERDOMO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He says his job isn't very stable. He doesn't want to go to the U.S. like so many of his friends have done recently. He says he hopes Castro wins and cleans up the country. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.