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Honduras Inaugurates First Female President Xiomara Castro

INTERNATIONAL: Xiomara Castro was sworn in as Honduras' first woman president on Thursday ,January 27, as her government faces tests over a sharply divided Congress, rising debt and relations with China.

Castro, flanked by her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, and their children, was sworn in at a packed open-air soccer stadium, her supporters dancing and shouting. She smiled broadly as the blue and white presidential sash was draped across her chest.

"Honduras has been sunk these past 12 years and I receive a bankrupt country," a sombre Castro has said in her inaugural address, denouncing a sevenfold jump in debt under her two conservative predecessors.

She has said it was "practically impossible" to make current debt payments without a restructuring.

The country's total debt stands at about $15.5 billion, or nearly 60 percent of gross domestic product, an economic problem Castro has frequently highlighted on the campaign trail ahead of her landslide election win in November.

"The people must know what they did with the money and where are the 20 million dollars they [past government] borrowed," she added.

She has also vowed to give more than 1 million poor Hondurans free electricity, with bigger consumers subsidizing the cost.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, who has been tasked by President Joe Biden to lead U.S. policy in Central America's impoverished Northern Triangle of countries, was also at the event.

Harris' attendance is notable, as lower-ranking officials typically lead such U.S. delegations.

U.S. officials want to work with Castro to curb illegal immigration from Central America and shore up international support for Taiwan as part of its efforts to stem China's influence. Honduras is one of the few countries maintaining diplomatic ties with Taipei instead of Beijing.

Castro assumes office embroiled in a dispute with dissidents in her own party. Rival candidates have declared themselves head of Congress, undermining her ability to pass legislation.

Taiwanese Vice President William Lai has also attended the inauguration in a bid to bolster ties with Honduras under Castro, who during her election campaign threatened to switch allegiance to Beijing if elected president.

Castro's inauguration ends the eight-year rule of the conservative National Party's Juan Orlando Hernandez, who has been accused in U.S. courts of corruption and links to drug traffickers, allegations he has repeatedly denied.

Hernandez, who had been a longstanding U.S. ally in immigration and anti-narcotics operations, may be shielded from extradition for up to four years as a new member of the Central American parliament.

Hernandez's brother last year was sentenced by a U.S. judge to life in prison plus 30 years for drug trafficking.

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