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Honduras inaugurates first female president, Harris vows closer US ties

Honduran president-elect Xiomara Castro waves after swearing in during her inauguration ceremony, in Tegucigalpa, on Thursday. - AFP
Honduran president-elect Xiomara Castro waves after swearing in during her inauguration ceremony, in Tegucigalpa, on Thursday. - AFP

TEGUCIGALPA: Xiomara Castro was sworn in as Honduras' first woman president on Thursday in front of a cheering crowd including US Vice President Kamala Harris, who pledged US government support to stem migration and fight corruption.

Castro's inauguration ends the eight-year rule of Juan Orlando Hernandez, a one-time US ally who has been accused in US courts of corruption and links to drug traffickers. Even as Hernandez left office a US congresswoman called for him to be indicted, and for requests to be made for his extradition.

Castro, flanked by her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, was sworn in at a packed soccer stadium where supporters applauded her vows to fix the country's massive debt burden.

"The economic catastrophe that I'm inheriting is unparalleled in the history of our country," a somber Castro said in her inaugural address.

Harris, who was loudly applauded when introduced during the inauguration, congratulated Castro over her "democratic election."

In a meeting shortly after the ceremony, Harris promised to collaborate on migration issues, economic development and fighting impunity, and said she welcomed Castro's plans to request United Nations help to establish an anti-corruption commission.

Harris has been tasked with addressing the "root causes" of migration in Central America's impoverished Northern Triangle of countries, but her trip comes as US President Joe Biden's popularity at home has waned and his immigration strategy has stalled.

"We do very much want and intend to do what we can to support this new president," said one administration official.

Castro tweeted that she appreciated Harris' visit and the Biden administration's willingness to support the Honduran government.

Harris also pledged to send Honduras several hundred thousand more Covid-19 vaccine doses along with 500,000 syringes and $1.3 million for health and educational facilities.

The two did not discuss China, she told reporters.

US officials want to work with Castro both to curb illegal immigration from Central America and shore up international support for Taiwan as part of its efforts to stem China's influence.

Honduras is one of the few countries maintaining diplomatic ties with Taipei instead of Beijing, and Castro during her campaign backtracked on comments that she might switch allegiance to China as president.

Taiwanese Vice President William Lai attended the inauguration in a bid to bolster ties with Castro's government. Harris said the two spoke over their common interest in Central America.

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 addressing Honduras' weak economy. - Reuters

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