Honduras to inaugurate its first female president, with Taiwan ties in mind

TEGUCIGALPA, Jan 27 (Reuters) – Honduran President-elect Xiomara Castro will be sworn in as the country’s first female president on Thursday in the presence of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, as the Honduran leader faces an early test in a Congress strongly divided.

Harris, who has been tasked by President Joe Biden with leading US policy in the impoverished northern triangle of Central American countries, arrived in the Honduran capital on Thursday morning.

She was greeted by two of Castro’s children as well as his new foreign minister.

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Harris and other U.S. officials want to work with Castro to curb illegal immigration from Central America and build international support for Taiwan as part of its effort to stem China’s influence around the world. Honduras is one of the few countries to maintain diplomatic relations with Taipei instead of Beijing.

Castro takes office, embroiled in a dispute with dissidents from his own party. Rival candidates have declared themselves to lead Congress, undermining its ability to pass laws.

Taiwanese Vice President William Lai is also attending the inauguration in a bid to strengthen ties with Honduras under Castro, who during his election campaign threatened to switch allegiance to Beijing from Taipei if elected president.

After meeting Lai on Wednesday, Castro said Honduras was grateful for Taiwan’s support and hoped to maintain their relationship. Lai was supposed to hold official talks with Castro and deliver materials to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, but that was canceled, Taiwan’s Central News Agency said.

Luis Leon, director of the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy in Central America, said Harris’ arrival was a boost for Castro in the dispute over control of Congress and in tackling weak government. Honduran economy.

This means the United States has “an opportunity to position its interests on issues such as migration and maintaining the country’s relationship with its ally Taiwan,” Leon said.

The United States, as part of its “one China” policy, recognizes Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of its territory, although the United States does not endorse this position. The United States does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Harris has been tasked 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 has stalled.

Harris, seen by many Democrats as a likely US presidential candidate in 2024, has also seen her poll numbers plummet and has been hit by resignations from senior officials.

In a meeting with Castro, Harris plans to discuss economic opportunity, fighting corruption and managing migration, U.S. officials said.

“We really want and intend to do what we can to support this new president as she tries to move forward,” an administration official told reporters.

Castro, who describes herself as a democratic socialist, is committed to fighting corruption, poverty and violence in Honduras, chronic problems that have helped fuel illegal immigration to the United States.

But his legislative agenda has been jeopardized by renegade politicians from his leftist Free Party, who over the weekend allied with the conservative opposition National Party to vote for one of its members to lead Congress. .

This created a rival legislature and broke a pact that Libre had made with its electoral ally, the Salvador Party founded by its first vice-president, to appoint one of the latter’s members to lead Congress.

Castro and the rest of his party recognized a Salvadoran lawmaker as the legitimate leader of Congress.

Castro’s inauguration ends the eight-year reign of Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party, who has been charged in US courts with corruption and links to drug traffickers.

U.S. Congresswoman Norma Torres, a member of Biden’s Democratic Party, called for Hernandez to be indicted immediately on drug trafficking charges after Castro took office. She added that US authorities should also seek his extradition, in a statement released Thursday.

Hernandez was a key U.S. ally under the Obama and Trump administrations, in immigration and counter-narcotics operations. But US prosecutors revealed in court documents last year that Hernandez, 53, was being investigated in a sprawling investigation into drug trafficking in Honduras.

Hernandez, whose brother was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years for drug trafficking last year by a US judge, has repeatedly denied the allegations.

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Additional reporting by Nandita Bose, Michael Martina and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell

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