By Trevor Hunnicutt and Gustavo Palencia
WASHINGTON/TEGUCIGALPA -U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visits Honduras on Thursday for the inauguration of leftist President-elect Xiomara Castro, whose assumption of power has been clouded by political turmoil that Washington hopes to alleviate with a show of solidarity.
U.S. officials want to work with Castro to curb illegal immigration from Central America and shore up international support for Taiwan. Honduras is one of the few countries in the world maintaining diplomatic ties with Taipei.
Castro, the first woman to lead Honduras, 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 is also attending the inauguration in a bid https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwan-vice-president-leaves-shore-up-shaky-alliance-with-honduras-2022-01-25 to bolster ties with Honduras under Castro, who during her election campaign threatened to switch allegiance to Beijing from Taipei if elected president.
After meeting Lai on Wednesday, Castro said Honduras is grateful for Taiwan’s support and hopes to maintain their relationship https://www.reuters.com/world/new-honduras-leader-says-she-hopes-maintain-taiwan-ties-2022-01-27. Lai had been due to hold formal talks with Castro and deliver materials to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, but that was cancelled, Taiwan’s Central News Agency said.
Luis Leon, director of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy in Central America, said Harris’ arrival is a boost for Castro in the dispute over control of Congress and in addressing Honduras’ weak economy.
It means the United States has an “opportunity to position its interests on issues such as migration and maintaining the country’s relations with its ally Taiwan,” Leon said.
The United States, under its “one China” policy, acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of its territory though the United States does not endorse this stance. The U.S. does not have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Harris has been tasked by President Joe Biden with addressing the “root causes” of migration from Central America, but her trip comes as Biden’s popularity at home has waned and his immigration strategy https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-children-insight-idCAKBN2C21FH has stalled https://www.reuters.com/world/us/bidens-immigration-goals-fade-after-setbacks-us-mexico-border-2022-01-20.
During a bilateral meeting with Castro, Harris plans to discuss economic opportunity, the fight against corruption and managing migration, U.S. officials said.
“We do very much want and intend to do what we can to support this new president as she tries to make progress,” one administration official told reporters.
Castro has vowed to tackle corruption, poverty and violence in Honduras, chronic problems that have helped fuel illegal immigration to the United States.
But her legislative program has been jeopardized by renegade politicians from her Libre party, who over the weekend allied with the conservative opposition National Party to vote for one of its members to head Congress.
That has created a rival legislature and breached a pact that Libre had made with its electoral ally, the Salvador Party, to appoint one of the latter’s members to lead Congress.
Castro and the rest of her party have recognized a Salvador lawmaker as Congress’ legitimate leader.
Castro’s inauguration ends the eight-year rule of the National Party’s Juan Orlando Hernandez, who has been accused in U.S. courts of corruption and links to drug traffickers.
Hernandez, whose brother last year was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years for drug trafficking by a U.S. judge, has repeatedly denied the allegations.