On Sunday, Honduran citizens will head to the polls to elect a new president and the chances of left-wing candidate Xiomara Castro becoming the next president of Honduras are quite good, local and international polling has shown.
A study published by Fitch Solutions Country Risk and Industry Research found that Castro’s candidacy was boosted when Salvador Nasralla, former presidential candidate for the Savior of Honduras party, exited the race. Nasralla has since joined Castro’s efforts to bring to an end the 12-year rule of the National Party in Honduras.
During the National Party’s tenure, the relationship between Honduras and Taiwan has significantly strengthened. This has many people wondering what a new government headed by the now-opposition party might mean for Taiwan.
This became a topic of concern at the beginning of September, when Castro gave a speech in which she promised that, if elected, she would immediately establish diplomatic and commercial ties with the People’s Republic of China — something that has sent shockwaves through Taiwanese government officials and political pundits alike.
This declaration concerns anyone wanting to see Taiwan-Honduras relations continue, but statements made during a presidential campaign do not always become a reality.
Castro is the wife of former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya Rosales, whose presidential term came to an abrupt end in 2009, when he was expelled from Honduras for trying to establish a consulting mechanism to extend his presidency for another term.
During his time in office, Zelaya never tried to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China. As political coordinator for Castro’s “Partido Libre,” Zelaya is a powerful figure in his wife’s political campaign and will surely be an influence in her government.
Castro’s speech was not necessarily well-received among Hondurans — not directly due to her proposal of switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China, but because the speech talked about approval for an emergency contraception pill, which many conservative Hondurans consider to be a method of abortion.
Honduras is a religious country and Castro’s speech gave the incumbent party the ammunition it needed to start a media campaign against her, in which it referred to her so-called “support for abortion.” This had a negative response, and is probably why neither Castro nor her campaign has since referred to approval for emergency contraception or the establishment of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.
However, the negative response might not be the only reason they have not publicly discussed the topics again. It is quite possible that the reaction of experts in Honduras, many of whom highlighted that the US government supports Taiwan, made Castro reconsider her position on that issue.
It is no secret that Taiwan-US relations are as strong as they have ever been in living memory. Proof of that is the approval of the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act, which authorizes the US Department of State to reduce its economic, diplomatic and security engagements with nations that take actions that seriously undermine Taiwan.
While Castro’s speech focused on the economic benefits that switching diplomatic recognition to China would bring to Honduras, such a move would likely cost Honduras in its relations with the US.
For example, in September, Washington extended temporary protection status for Honduran citizens in the US. This is significant for a country that gets 23 percent of its GDP from money sent home by citizens living in the US, Canada and Spain.
However, it is not just the US; anti-China sentiment has spread throughout the world, with countries such as Australia, Japan and many European nations promoting policies to counter China’s influence worldwide.
If victorious, Castro’s new government might find itself doing the opposite of what the rest of the international community is doing. Historically, Honduras has had a good relationship with the US and the EU, so going against them might isolate a newly elected government on a continent where communism and socialism are almost extinct.
The situation is different from 12 years ago when Zelaya tried to strengthen Honduras’ relationship with Venezuela in exchange for oil and with Cuba in exchange for their collaboration in the medical field. Former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and former Cuban president Fidel Castro have passed away, and their countries are facing economic and political turmoil, leaving them in a weak position to support the Honduran government.
The Nicaraguan government, possibly the only left-wing government in Central America, is also dealing with controversies within its borders. With 81 percent of Nicaraguan voters having reportedly abstained in the last election, the regime of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is not something that a newly elected government would want to be associated with.
Castro might also reverse course on her decision to switch diplomatic recognition to China because of the addition of Nasralla as the first presidential designate, or vice president. Nasralla has always been a centrist candidate and looked to enhance relations between Honduras and the US. Knowing that switching diplomatic recognition might deteriorate these ties, Nasralla would likely mediate, and seek to keep Castro from making such a decision.
The truth is that keeping the National Party in power would not completely guarantee the continuation of diplomatic ties between Taiwan and Honduras. Even presidents from the same party have different priorities. Beijing could persuade National Party presidential candidate Nasry Asfura to switch diplomatic recognition to China.
There is time for Castro to reverse course, and it is the support of like-minded democratic nations that would make this effort succeed. Democratic nations could make it clear to a new government that it is in Honduras’ best interest to ensure that Taiwan and Honduras’ friendship — which just celebrated 80 years — continues for decades to come.
Fernando Herrera Ramos is a Honduran lawyer residing in Taiwan. He has a master’s degree in business administration.
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