VANGUARD - Expressing the viewpoint of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)
For National Independence and Socialism •


Honduras and the US-China inter-imperialist rivalry

Xiomara Castro    Photo by Redacción is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

The announcement that Honduras was changing its diplomatic allegiance to China and away from Taiwan has marked a further instalment in an unfolding Cold War drama taking place in Central America. The US has, historically, used Taiwan as a major player with their diplomatic control of the tiny region, sandwiched between the huge northern US and vast, sprawling south of Latin America.

The announcement from Tegucigalpa, therefore, formed part of a significant shift in the balance of forces away from traditional US-led hegemonic positions in Central America and their CAFTA trade bloc.

In mid-March President Xiomara Castro of Honduras announced she had instructed her Foreign Minister, Eduardo Reina, 'to undertake the opening of official relations with the People's Republic of China'. (1) The presidential administration promised they would, 'immediately open diplomatic and trade relations with China'. (2) The given reason for the diplomatic switch was due to Honduras negotiating a Chinese aid program to build a hydro-electric dam called Patuca II. China has stepped up infra-structure projects elsewhere across the southern half of the Americas, including the construction of another dam in Honduras, Patuca III. The Honduran government has been keen to facilitate economic development projects and the boosting of energy supplies remain a high priority.

Honduras, historically, had strong diplomatic ties with Taiwan, which formed part of a US-led alignment toward Central America. Slowly, however, a shifting balance of forces has seen the countries of the region shift toward China; Taiwan now only has full diplomatic links with Guatemala and the tiny UK-led enclave of Belize. In recent years Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic have severed their links with Taiwan.

Taipei, now, has only 'representatives' in Costa Rica and El Salvador.

The move by Nicaragua toward China proved particularly significant: presidential elections in 2021 saw a massive US-led destabilisation program, some of which was alleged to have been funnelled through Taiwanese diplomacy.

It is important, nevertheless, to place the recent example of Honduras into a more meaningful context: Honduras has had a difficult history with widespread US interference in their political system with serious implications for ordinary Honduran people. (3) Ruling presidential administrations have, historically, been right-wing and openly supportive of 'US interests', with little respect for lower socio-economic groups and Indigenous peoples.

The election of Xiomara Castro as president, however, marked a significant change. Bearing left-wing political credentials, she has maintained widespread support amongst the fifty per cent of the country who continue to live in poverty. Xiomara Castro is also the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, elected in 2006, who was toppled in a US-led military coup in 2009: the Zelaya administration opened diplomatic relations with both Cuba and Venezuela, which were assessed as counter to 'US interests'.

When former US national security advisor, John Bolton, admitted 'he has helped plan coups in other countries', Honduras was likely to be high on the list of examples. (4) He was noted as advocating US-led military intervention in Venezuela while in office. (5) It was not coincidental that political chicanery within the legal system, similar to other US-led initiatives in Venezuela, was also evident with the ousting of President Manual Zelaya. (6)

While a great deal of US-led interference in Honduras has been conducted in the form of covert operations, the same does not hold for the military and those with whom they remain associated, in Honduras. Studies of the CIA secret wars in Central America during the 1980s revealed US officials meeting the Honduran armed forces chief, General Gustavo Alvarez, 'who was in charge of the Honduran end of the operation … to invade Nicaragua … and topple the Sandinista government in Managua'. (7) So much for Nicaraguan sovereignty!

Honduras has long been regarded by Washington and the Pentagon as the hub for 'US interests' in Central America. And old habits, for organisers of US operations, die hard.

The same period also included the US using Honduras as a hub for drug-trafficking to finance covert operations with the Contra against Nicaragua. The problem has had a long-time history to the present day. It is also institutional: following Iran-Contra revelations decades ago, in 2019 the younger brother of the then President Juan Hernandez was sentenced to thirty years in prison in the US for cocaine trafficking. (8) It was followed by the extradition of the former president last year to face similar charges in the US together with massive money laundering, indicating corruption at the highest levels in Honduras. (9)

Behind the scenes, however, the tide would appear to be turning against the US: the election of President Xiomara Castro has provided Honduran people with a credible challenge to the neo-colonial type of economic relations foisted upon their country by Washington and the Pentagon. In 2005, for example, the US began moves to establish the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which was fully implemented the following year. Taiwan was a major player, with the main rationale being to undermine cheap Chinese exports into the US.

The switching of diplomatic relations with Honduras from Taiwan to China is, therefore, a major blow to the US. When an official statement was issued from the Foreign Ministry in Taipei announcing 'serious concern', it was, in reality, a joint diplomatic note from the Biden administration in Washington.

The implementation of CAFTA included the small region hosting large numbers of trade parks and other economic ventures based on massive exploitation of workers. It has also been held responsible for repression against those who seek to organise workers. In Guatemala a total of 68 trade unionists were assassinated over a seven-year period, without a single arrest being made. (10) Industrial relations in Honduras are little better.

CAFTA has been held responsible for destroying the livelihoods of small farmers and US textile workers and was a deal 'sold with false promises'. (11) Honduras remains a predominantly agricultural country. CAFTA has also contributed to the economic instability of Honduras and the wider region and created conditions for illegal migration of dispossessed and expropriated people, desperate for a better life for themselves and their families. The 'caravans' of asylum-seekers attempting to settle in the US, after walking across the Rio Grande have to be seen in this light.  

In conclusion, recent developments in Honduras and Central America can be viewed in line with a reaction against US-led tutelage of the economies and political systems of the region!

1.     Honduras turns back on Taiwan to establish diplomatic ties with China, Australian, 16 March 2023.
2.     Ibid.
3.     See: The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism, Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, (Boston, 1979);  Chart, The Sun and its Planets, inside cover, showing number of US-trained military personnel (1950-75), and, Total US Military Aid (1946-75).
4.     Coups?, I have helped plan several real ones: Bolton, Australian, 14 July 2022.
5.     Ibid.
6.     See: A Honduran coup comes full circle, The Los Angelos Times, 27 April 2005.
7.     Veil, The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-87, Bob Woodward, (London, 1987), page 231.
8.     See: Has Honduras become a 'narco-state'? BBC News, 22 April 2022.
9.     Honduran president's fall from grace, The Guardian (U.K.), 26 January 2022.
10.   See: Public Citizen – CAFTA, which contains numerous charts of economic information about the exploitation of Central America.
11.   Ibid.