Kamala cozies up to Castro in Honduras, angers China by speaking with Taiwan vice president

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Honduran President Xiomara Castro was sworn-in yesterday as the country’s first female president. Kamala Harris attended the ceremony and later met with Castro to extend congratulations and begin smoothing over a diplomatic cooling-off that has happened between the U.S. and Honduras since the 2009 coup in that country. The effectiveness of Kamala’s outreach remains to be seen.

Given her disastrous initial trip to the Northern Triangle last June, the bar is not high for Kamala to show progress now with Honduras. Honduras is really her only hope of a working partner in her quest to work on the root causes of illegal migration flooding the U.S. southern border. She didn’t win over hearts and minds in Guatemala when she told those considering fleeing to the U.S., “Don’t come.” That was her big message. Don’t come. How embarrassing. El Salvador’s president has decided to avoid working with the U.S. after weighing his own political considerations and the relationship with Honduras is a complicated one. Honduras’s outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernández is facing credible allegations of cooperating with drug trafficking.

The relationship with the outgoing Hernández strained to the point that Guatemala-born Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) this week wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Department of Justice to charge and extradite Hernández upon Castro’s inauguration.

“President Hernandez has been a central figure in undermining the rule of law in his own country and in protecting and assisting drug traffickers to move their materials through Honduras and to the United States,” wrote Torres, who has taken a leading role in addressing corruption in the region.

“He has been repeatedly identified as a co-conspirator in other drug trafficking cases and has caused incredible pain to both the people of Honduras and the United States. I believe it is essential that the United States hold him accountable for his criminal behavior,” she added.

Castro’s husband is the country’s former President Manuel Zelaya who was deposed during a coup in 2009 (the Obama-Biden years) and there is still tension over allegations of U.S. involvement in that coup. The Biden administration is treading lightly to avoid cries of overreach into Honduran politics.

Like Hillary Clinton, Xiomara Castro rode her husband’s coattails into power. After her time as first lady was over, she ran in 2013 and in 2017 to become president. A democratic socialist, she is the country’s first female president. She may become a willing partner with Kamala if she sees it to her advantage. Kamala offered words of encouragement in a meeting with Castro after the inauguration.

“I’d like to publicly congratulate you on your election. We’ve been watching the election process closely,” Harris told Castro. “We appreciate that your election was a democratic election.”

Castro’s focus on corruption may help Kamala’s agenda on dealing with root causes of migration.

“This is an initial call. We’re not looking at a large slate of programmatic deliverables,” said a senior administration official.

“But we do very much want and intend to do what we can to support this new president as she tries to make progress on what she has laid out as her priority agenda and the many things that we see as real positives on that agenda,” added the official.

“Last year, the Biden-Harris administration released a comprehensive and strong plan to address complex issues impacting the region. This year, they must double down on the plan’s tenets,” said Sergio Gonzales, executive director of the Immigration Hub and a former immigration adviser to Harris.

“Success in this important work will only be achieved by policies that treat people fairly and with dignity, and through a shared regional framework that treats migration as a dynamic asset to be managed rather than deterred,” added Gonzales.

Kamala also met with her Taiwanese counterpart who was in attendance. She said William Lai approached her and they spoke about their shared interests in Central America and about the root causes strategy to slow migration. Needless to say, China officials aren’t pleased with the impromptu exchange between Kamala and Lai.

Taiwan’s official Central News Agency characterized it as a “simple greeting”, saying the two “talked briefly and interacted naturally”.

It carried a picture of them standing next to each other on a stage talking, both wearing face masks, and Lai sporting a lapel pin of entwined Taiwanese and Honduran flags.

Lai told reporters traveling with him that when speaking to Harris he thanked the United States for its “rock-solid” help to Taiwan, and that he thought Harris was a “very capable person”, the Central News Agency reported.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said the United States should “take actual steps to put into effect its promises not to support Taiwan independence, and stop playing with fire on the Taiwan issue”.

Honduras is one of only 14 countries with formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. We’ll see how strong of a partner Honduras remains with Taiwan. During her campaign, Castro “floated the idea of ditching Taipei for Beijing”. After her inauguration, though, it is reported she expressed gratitude for Taiwan’s support and relationship. Lai met with her again on Thursday and delivered a donation of supplies to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lai invited Castro to visit Taiwan, and told her that as both Taiwan and Honduras have close ties with Washington he hoped the three parties could work together to address the country’s problems, Taiwan’s presidential office said.

Speaking after her meeting with Castro, Harris said they did not discuss China.

The Biden administration is as much of a flop on the international stage as they are domestically. Kamala uses her desire to deal with the root causes of migration instead of devoting the attention that the Biden border crisis on the southern border right now demands. She’d rather talk about actions that affect the future rather than deal with what is in front of her right now.