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Hondurans vote in presidential election

KELSEY SNELL, HOST:

Voters in Honduras are facing a tough pick for president at a particularly tough time. The small Central American country has been dealing with a pandemic, its economy fallout, as well as rebuilding after back-to-back hurricanes and rampant political corruption. NPR's Carrie Kahn is on the line from the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, Kelsey.

SNELL: It sounds like there are a lot of issues people are considering when casting their votes today. What's top on people's mind?

KAHN: I'd say first, the economy and jobs. People are hurting here. The economy wasn't great before the pandemic. And the shutdowns and job loss have just hurt people hard. But also top of the list is corruption. The ruling party has been in power here for 12 years since a coup in 2009, and many say corruption has run rampant since. The current president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, was even named in a New York drug trafficking case against his brother. Hernandez denies any ties, but people are tired here. Then they're casting their votes against the status quo and the president and his party.

SNELL: The current president is not on the ballot. Who is, and what do they say they will do for the country?

KAHN: Well, ahead in the polls is a former first lady, Xiomara Castro. She's married to the president that was ousted in that 2009 coup. And she would be Honduras's first female president. The ruling party ties her to allegations of bribes her husband allegedly took while in office. And opponents like to say she's a radical leftist who will turn the country communist. She says she will help the poor and fix the economy. Trailing after her is the ruling party's candidate, Nasry Asfura. He's the two-time mayor of the capital here, and he tries to distance himself from the president. And his slogan is he's different. He says he'll create jobs, but he, too, faced allegations of misappropriating city funds. And lastly, there's Yani Rosenthal. He's polling a distant third. But just have to mention that he recently served a three-year prison term in the U.S. for money laundering. And he says he'll give money directly to the poor.

SNELL: Well, so with those choices, what are people telling you about whether they'll vote and for whom?

KAHN: Many just said they're not happy with the options. And polls show Hondurans have the lowest level of support for democracy in Latin America. They say it just hasn't worked for them. I was in the capital's downtown central market, talking to people, take a listen.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Yelling in Spanish).

KAHN: It's chaotic. That guy's yelling for people to get on buses. Vendors are everywhere in the street. And support for Xiomara Castro is very high among the poor. And I talked to Esteban Cardona (ph). He's 39 with three kids and has tried to get to the U.S. several times. His last attempt was in April. He was caught in Mexico and deported.

ESTEBAN CARDONA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He says he's just trying to get out, not for himself but for his kids. He says he just wants to give them a better life, and he can't do that here. He also says he's worried about violence if the election isn't clean. And you hear that a lot. In the 2017 vote, it was marred by fraud allegations. And protests broke out, and more than 20 people were killed.

SNELL: So what are electoral officials and the candidates themselves saying about the potential for violence this time?

KAHN: Well, there were reforms put in place and better equipment was bought. But there are just doubts about whether all of that has been implemented properly and whether the new equipment will work. And candidates have said they will abide by the results. The U.S. even sent a high-level delegation just a few days ago to make clear that the Biden administration expects the will of the Honduran people to be respected. But large migrant caravans left Honduras after those deadly 2017 elections. And Honduran migration to the U.S. is up this year, so there are fears of even more migration if this is another messy election.

SNELL: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn talking to us from Honduras. Thanks, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.