Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Honduras on Thursday to attend the inauguration of Xiomara Castro, the far-left radical who was sworn in as the country’s first female president.
Castro, formerly First Lady as the wife of President Manuel Zelaya, ended a 12-year run in power by the scandal-plagued right-wing National Party. The inauguration ceremony was held amid a crisis caused by Castro’s political maneuvers, over which of two rival factional leaders would preside over the Honduran Congress.
Castro campaigned on a promise to “pull Honduras out of the abyss” of “narco-dictatorship and corruption,” a reference to outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s alleged links to the drug trade – links that received embarrassing attention in U.S. federal court.
Honduran voters were reportedly weary of rising crime, corruption, and poverty under the National Party, factors seen as contributing to the great migration northward that is causing some political trouble for the Biden administration. They turned to Castro, whose record as an admirer and apologist for hideous Venezuelan dictators Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro are not hopeful signs.
AFP noted Honduras has a poverty rate of 71 percent and a murder rate of roughly 40 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Castro enthusiastically paid tribute to Chávez on the second anniversary of his death in 2015, proclaiming “solidarity” with his protégé Maduro in the “anti-imperialist struggle.” She thanked the brutal Venezuelan regime for steadfastly supporting her husband after he was deposed in a 2009 coup.
Castro and Zelaya also forged ties with left-wing Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega during their post-coup exile to his country. Local media reports suggested Castro’s familiarity with the Nicaraguan regime was more troubling to Honduran voters than her embrace of the Venezuela dictatorship.
Castro previously ran for president in 2014 on a platform of imposing “democratic socialism” and rejecting “bipartisanship” to make sweeping one-party changes to Honduran government. She also wanted to rewrite the national constitution to declare Honduras “free and independent of any power or foreign government,” although that spirit of defiant independence apparently does not interfere with accepting gigantic amounts of American foreign aid or political assistance from international far-left organizations like the Sao Paulo Forum.
The communist tyrannies of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua congratulated Castro for taking power even before the votes were fully counted, while the U.S. did not officially comment on the election. However, the Biden administration now seems eager to develop a relationship with Castro.
Team Biden appears untroubled by the overtones of anti-Semitism from the Castro political movement. Zelaya claimed “Israeli mercenaries” helped drive him out of office in 2009 by blasting his brain with radiation beams, while Castro’s running mate Salvador Nasralla claimed Israel was the secret “boss” of former President Hernandez and Jews control the world by manipulating the money supply. His wife once praised Adolf Hitler as a “great leader,” an outburst for which she apologized to the Latin American Jewish Congress.
American political commentators view Harris’ attendance at Castro’s inauguration as an effort to rebuild some of the vice president’s credibility as a “border czar” by getting a handle on the causes of mass illegal immigration from Central America.
“We see it as an opportunity to really start a new chapter in the partnership between our two countries and allow us to advance our shared interests. So the meeting and the trip overall is about starting our work together with the Castro administration. And working to do things that are in the best interests of both the American people and the people of Honduras,” an unnamed “senior administration official” told Fox News on Thursday.
The administration plans to do everything it can to support Castro in her agenda, which it said had “many positives,” while also addressing the root causes of corruption in the country and the region to make sure “robust steps” are taken to justify “U.S. taxpayer spending in support of the country.”
The White House sees Castor’s [sic] election as an “opportunity to really start a new chapter in the partnership between our two countries and allow us to advance our shared interests,” an official said.
Castro is the first leader in the history of Honduras — a rather conservative nation — to be elected on a socialist platform and will also be the first woman to hold the role.
Fox noted Harris has been essentially invisible as “border czar” after a few ceremonial events early in the Biden administration, leading Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei to complain he has not heard a word from Harris since she swung through his country in June and said “do not come” to aspiring Guatemalan migrants.
To win the presidential election, Castro’s Libre Party had to make a deal with the Savior Party of Honduras (PSH), from which her running mate Salvador Nasralla hails. The deal involved giving the congressional leadership position to a member of PSH named Luis Redondo.
On Friday, 20 of Libre’s 50 lawmakers reneged on the deal and voted for a member of their own party, Jorge Calix. Calix picked up enough support from Castro opponents to win the vote, prompting a vigorous fistfight in the congressional hall. Calix abandoned his attempt to get sworn in and departed Congress in a shower of punches.
Libre leadership, including Castro herself, accused the party’s rebellious members of being stooges for “organized crime” and “drug trafficking” who wanted to sabotage the Libre-PSH deal so they could thwart Castro’s promised crusade against corruption.
The dissidents said they supported Calix because Libre holds the most seats in the legislature, so one of its members should preside. PSH has only ten seats to Libre’s 50.
Castro’s choice for congressional leader, Luis Redondo, was invited to preside over her inauguration ceremony. Calix was offered what amounts to chief of staff for the new president as a consolation prize on Wednesday, but did not immediately respond to the offer.
Taiwanese Vice President William Lai also flew to Tegucigalpa for the inauguration, as Honduras is one of only 14 countries that still recognize Taiwan as an entity separate from China.
Castro threatened to change that on the campaign trail by promising to “immediately open diplomatic and commercial relations with mainland China,” but after winning the election she expressed gratitude for support from Taiwan and said she hopes to maintain the “hand-in-hand” relationship between the two countries.
As he departed from Taiwan, Lai told reporters he was bringing medical supplies to help Honduras fight the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.
“Honduras is an important ally of Taiwan in Central America,” Voice of America News (VOA) reported of Lai’s comments. “On this trip, we will bring a variety of Taiwan-made disease prevention equipment to give to the people of Honduras, taking concrete action to demonstrate our strong support for the Taiwan-Honduras alliance and the new Honduran administration on the first day of President Castro’s term.”
It is difficult to imagine Castro, or anyone in her administration, is naïve enough to think Beijing will not use every bit of economic leverage they give it to squeeze Taiwan out of the picture, no matter how many millions the Taiwanese have loaned to Honduras in the past.
VOA on Wednesday quoted Castro foreign policy adviser Rodolfo Pastor giving the game away in a recent interview: “I believe that we have a responsibility to [Taiwan] as someone with whom we have had a good relationship – but I do believe that we also have a responsibility to our own population to be realistic, to be pragmatic, and to understand that mainland China today plays a determining role that we cannot let go unnoticed.”
VOA noted China is watching closely to see if VP Harris meets with VP Lai while they are both in Honduras, having instructed the Biden administration to avoid even backstage contact between the two.
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