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Harris will travel to Honduras for the inauguration of Xiomara Castro

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Vice President Harris is traveling to Honduras tomorrow for the inauguration of a new president, Xiomara Castro. That Harris is going at all shows this new relationship is very important to the White House. There's hope in Washington that they found a new willing partner to help tackle the root causes of migration from Central America to the U.S. southern border. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is here. Franco, good morning.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How big a deal is it that Harris is going at all?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, it's a big deal. You know, it's very rare that a vice president will travel to Latin America for an inauguration, especially a smaller country like Honduras. You know, this relates to part of Vice President Harris' role in the White House. She has a really complex job of tackling migration from Central America. And the numbers of people coming to the southern border continue to be really high. In just the last fiscal year, there were almost 320,000 times when a migrant from Honduras came to the U.S. border. Honduras is a troubled country with a poor economy, a lot of gang violence, drug trafficking. But tackling these problems has been really hard. You know, the U.S. had a difficult relationship with the departing president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, who's actually accused of taking drug money. And now, in comes Xiomara Castro, who is saying all the kinds of things that the U.S. wants to hear about working together, restoring democracy and fighting corruption.

INSKEEP: How would she fit in with any other partners the U.S. might have in the region?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. This is why the change in leadership there is such a big deal because Harris doesn't really have other partners to work with. In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele has issues with corruption, and he's even used social media to pick all kinds of fights with the Biden administration. In Guatemala, things started off well. Harris went there in June to meet with President Alejandro Giammattei. But just last week, the State Department slammed the Giammattei government for going after a judge who has exposed bribery and corruption in the government. I talked to Eric Farnsworth. He's a former State Department official now at the Council of Americas. He says the United States is desperate for a partner.

ERIC FARNSWORTH: To have the ability to be able to talk meaningfully with the incoming president of Honduras changes the dynamic, particularly as El Salvador and Guatemala have strained relations now with the United States.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, but Farnsworth told me - and I really think this is important - that many other Latin American leaders have rode into office pledging to root out corruption. And it just didn't happen.

INSKEEP: And in fact, you just mentioned a Guatemalan leader who seemed promising for the United States and now seems less so. Is there any danger that this relationship with a new president in Honduras might not work out?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, there are a few things that are involved. You know, I will just add that there's one really interesting geopolitical issue to do with this, and that has to do with China. You know, Honduras is one of those very few countries in the world to have diplomatic ties with Taiwan. You know, but during her campaign, Castro suggested she would shift more to China, and that's a really big deal to the administration. You know, they don't want their neighbors in the region to have closer ties with China. I spoke with Eric Miller. He's a trade consultant working with Honduran firms collaborating with Harris. And he told me both powers, the U.S. and China, are really courting Honduras right now.

ERIC MILLER: What happens in Latin America with China is something that is of very direct interest to the United States and is something that poses a bit of an existential threat.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, so the U.S. does not want to start off this crucial relationship dealing with this issue. And I'll just note that the vice president of Taiwan will actually also be at the inauguration.

INSKEEP: As will NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Franco, we'll look forward to your reporting.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIBIO'S "SAINT THOMAS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.