From first lady to first female president: Meet the new Honduran leader Xiomara Castro

Xiomara Castro, seen in Tegucigalpa, Honduras after winning the presidential elections in November 2021.

(CNN)When Xiomara Castro led a march through the Honduran capital in 2009, demanding that her husband, who was ousted in a military coup, be returned to power, it was the first time she seized the political spotlight, according to Honduran political experts CNN spoke to for this article.

Now, the former first lady is ready to take center stage as Honduras' first female president, promising a radical agenda to counter years of governance plagued by corruption and scandal.
Castro, a democratic socialist, will be inaugurated on Thursday following a landslide victory in the November 2021 presidential elections.
    Her party, the Freedom and Refoundation Party (Libre) won the vote with a lead of more than 14 points over her nearest opponent, Nasry Asfura, the capital's mayor and candidate for outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernández's National Party.
      Winning 51% of the vote share and 1.7 million votes, Castro garnered the largest number of votes in the country's history, underscoring the public's appetite for change.
        The 62-year-old ran on campaign promises to battle corruption (and promised to enlist the United Nations to strengthen that fight), alleviate poverty and liberalize abortion laws.
        But a recent shakeup within Castro's own party could mean she might not be able to fulfil that agenda.
          On Sunday, a group of Libre lawmakers rebelled over Castro's pick for congressional speaker, leading to a split in the newly-elected Congress that could potentially see the National Party taking back control of the legislature.
          That fracture means that Castro is facing a reality of leading the country without the support of her some of her party and its allies in Congress -- days before she even is inaugurated.
          Castro's path to power has never been easy, however. It took her two failed campaigns in 2013 and 2017 before making it to the top post in Honduras, one of Latin America's most conservative countries -- with few female elected officials.
          Castro greets supporters at a presidential campaign rally in 2013 in Tegucigalpa.
          CNN reached out to Castro for this article. Her team told CNN that she was not giving interviews before her inauguration.

          A watershed moment

          Born in the capital Tegucigalpa, Castro dedicated her early years to family life, marrying businessman and politician Manuel Zelaya at the age of 19 and later raising their four children while managing his businesses, according her Libre Party website.
          When Zelaya took office in January 2006, Castro had no other political ambitions than to accompany him and to support his work, sociologist Julio Raudales of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) said, playing an active role in social programs that included early education initiatives and HIV/AIDS advocacy work.
          An unexpected twist in 2009 would change their lives. Zelaya was abducted from his house by military officers in a coup over a planned referendum on constitutional reform that would allow the president to be re-elected for a second term. Zelaya was taken to Costa Rica in his pyjamas. When he returned to Honduras in May 2011, he founded the Libre Party.
          Castro said soldiers shot at the door of the residence she shared with President Zelaya, her husband, in Tegucigalpa in 2009.
          Then-United States President Barack Obama called the turmoil a step backward from the "enormous progress of the last 20 years in establishing democratic traditions in Latin America."
          Meanwhile, Castro took the helm as leader of the resistance movement that demanded Zelaya's return to office. It was from that incident that her political career took shape, Raudales said.
          Before then, Castro was seen as "just the wife of a former president," lawyer and political analyst Raul Pineda said.
          Her election victory marked a watershed moment in Honduran politics, said Raudales.
          "At a time when Honduran democracy was highly questioned, Castro managed to show that you can defeat a lot of opposition if you work properly and get the sympathy of the population in Honduras," he said.
          In 2021, President Hernández was accused by United States federal prosecutors of helping an alleged drug trafficker deliver thousands of kilos of cocaine to the US in exchange for hefty bribes -- a claim his office rejected as "100% false." Hernández has not been charged.
          Marvin Reyes, a restaurateur from the town of Santa Lucia, told CNN that "Hondurans were tired of so much corruption, of so much theft, so much impunity. So, it [voting for Castro] was a protest vote, rather than a hope vote -- that was felt nationwide."

          A geopolitical balancing act

          Outside of the problems that Castro's already facing in Congress, there are other significant challenges Castro must tackle, Raudales said, including getting her agenda moving quick enough.
          Change in Honduras cannot "occur overnight," he said, even if Hondurans are ready for it.
          The country is one of the poorest in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the World Bank.
          And poverty is on the rise, according to a 2021 National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) report.
          Poverty rates increased from 59.3% in 2019 to roughly 70% in 2020, the report said, a situation that UNAH attributes to a "failed" Poverty Reduction Strategy implemented by the previous government and natural disasters.
          And that poverty is one of the main drivers of migration to the United States every year.
          Earlier this month, up to 8,000 US-bound migrants entered Guatemala from Honduras over the course of just two days, according to a Guatemalan immigration official.
          Castro's promise to stamp out the systemic problems behind poverty -- one of the root causes of that migration -- is not only popular with the electorate, but has made her an attractive ally for US President Joe Biden's administration.
          US Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to attend Castro's inauguration on Thursday, a move that Rolando Sierra, director of Honduras' Latin American Faculty of Social Science (FLACSO) said "sends a good message."
          "The US is legitimizing Castro's government because they're seeing in Xiomara Castro the possibility of a certain leadership within the region," Sierra said.
          Diplomatic relations between the US and Central American co