Conservative Juan Orlando Hernandez was sworn in Monday to a four-year term as president of Honduras, vowing “zero tolerance” against crime in the impoverished country’s battle against illegal drugs.
He took the oath of office in a ceremony at the National Stadium attended by an estimated 30,000 people.
Hernandez, 45, a lawyer, inherits a deeply divided country of 8.5 million people where 71 percent of the population lives in poverty and a spiraling homicide rate has reached 20 murders per day, one of the highest in the world.
“The party is over for criminals,” Hernandez said after his swearing in, adding that he would allow “zero tolerance on crime” and “reduce homicide more” in the coming months.
He also promised to increase the presence of military and civil police on streets, recruit new troops, and rid criminal elements from the country’s police, prosecutors and judges.
Hernandez invited US President Barack Obama and the US Congress to recognize their “common, but different responsibilities” on drug trafficking, one of the main factors behind Honduran violence, calling for both countries to “work together.”
He also said that the governments of Colombia, Mexico and other Central American countries had agreed to “increase cooperation” to focus on the drug trade and related crimes like money laundering.
“Seven out of ten homicides are drug-related… which means that if there were no drug problem, we would not be among the most violent countries in the world,” he said.
Hernandez also took the moment to reiterate his campaign promise to help Honduras’ 800,000 poorest families improve their living conditions and help small producers in the largely agricultural country.
Hernandez replaces Porfirio Lobo, of the same National Party.
The country’s supreme court last month rejected an appeal to overturn November’s presidential election results, which the leftist Libre party claimed was stolen by fraud.
Libre candidate Xiomara Castro, wife of party leader and ex-president Manuel Zelaya, officially lost to Hernandez, garnering just 29 percent against 37 percent. She described the results as a “disgusting monstrosity.”
Some 5,000 protesters led by Zelaya protested Monday in Tegucigalpa during the swearing in.
Zelaya was deposed at gunpoint in a June 2009 coup after he aligned Honduras with the leftist governments of Cuba and Venezuela.
The move led to 100 days of unrest that included massive street protests and a crackdown on leftist activists.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]