by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Tsai Ing-wen/Facebook
TAIWAN’S TIES WITH Latin American countries with questionable human rights records has been highlighted by a number of recent events.
First, Taiwan recently saw a state visit from Guatemalan president Alejandro Giammattei in late April. Giammattei traveled to Taiwan from April 24th to April 27th, attending a state banquet held in his honor by Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen. Giammattei was received at the airport by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu.
During his trip, Giammattei was awarded the Order of Brilliant Jade with Grand Cordon. Otherwise, Giammattei traveled to an electric vehicle factory in Taichung and attended a celebration of Guatemalan coffee in Taiwan. While this was not Giammattei’s first trip to Taiwan, seeing as he visited as president-elect in 2019, this was his first visit as president.
Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen and Guatemalan president Alejandro Giammattei inspecting an electric bus. Photo credit: Tsai Ing-wen/Facebook
Guatemala has sought to reassure of stable ties with Taiwan, shortly after Honduras broke ties with Taiwan. Belize and Guatemala are now Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies in Central America, reducing Taiwan to only thirteen diplomatic allies. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen recently traveled to Guatemala during a trip that included two stopovers in the US.
Guatemala has been particularly strident, with Guatemala’s ambassador to Taiwan, Oscar Adolfo Padilla Lam, stating in December 2022 as he presented his diplomatic credentials to Tsai that Giammattei would like to convene a summit of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies.
The Taiwanese government has stated that it has not received any further information on the summit, suggesting that the idea was not taken up and could have been a unilateral declaration. Guatemala may be intent on reinforcing ties with Taiwan, or this could be angling at attracting the attention of the US, as Taiwan’s backer, which has passed legislation aimed at preventing Taiwan from losing further allies.
Nevertheless, Guatemala has a poor human rights record. There are significant attacks on human rights defenders and journalists in the country, with the judiciary criticized as lacking independence. Participants in demonstrations have faced criminal charges, violence, and killings. At the same time, Taiwan has not sought to pressure Guatemala on its human rights record.
One saw similarly with regard to Paraguay, where Santiago Peña of the Colorado Party was elected earlier this month. This put an end to speculation that Paraguay would break ties with Taiwan after the election, as opposition leader Efraín Alegre of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party pledged to do. Peña has vowed to maintain ties, though some experts have suggested that Taiwan keep a close eye as to whether Paraguay maintains ties. After all, while Honduran president Xiomara Castro backed away from campaign promises to break ties with Taiwan once she took office, she later reversed course on this. Preceding Paraguayan president Mario Abdo visited Taiwan before elections, repeating a pattern previously seen with Castro’s predecessor as Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, in visiting Taiwan shortly before an election that could result in broken ties.
But it proves ironic that Taiwan maintains ties with the Colorado Party, particularly seeing as Taiwan is currently led by a DPP administration. The Colorado Party has ruled almost unchallenged in the last 75 years, only losing power between 2008 and 2013 for a mere five years.
The Colorado Party’s rule was previously a military dictatorship. In this way, the Colorado Party resembles nothing so much as the KMT, which ruled over Taiwan during the authoritarian period in what was once the world’s longest martial law period.
This morning I spoke to President-elect @SantiPenap of #Paraguay to congratulate him on his victory & thank him for his continued friendship & support for #Taiwan. I look forward to working with you to advance our bilateral cooperation & the well-being of our peoples. pic.twitter.com/m4lUrhcjns
— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) May 5, 2023
Alignment between the DPP and Colorado Party is ironic because of the fact that the DPP emerged from Taiwan’s democracy movement against the KMT’s one-party rule. Unsurprisingly, then, freedoms of assembly and expression are still violated by the Colorado Party, with Indigenous among those most targeted by the government.
It is also unlikely that the Taiwanese government would seek to pressure the Paraguayan government, particularly so soon after an election after which it was thought that Paraguay might break ties with Taiwan. As such, this proves another case in which Taiwan is unwilling to criticize the human rights violations of allies–and even abets.
Indeed, as should be well known by now, Taiwan is larger than all of its diplomatic allies, whether that is measured in terms of the size of the population or economy. But Taiwan has long been accused of backing authoritarian actors in such countries, subsidizing domestic infrastructure projects or even slush funds, in return for diplomatic recognition. This would be so that such countries could speak up for Taiwan in international recognition. Yet apart from that this seems unnecessary at a time in which Taiwan is seeing strengthening diplomatic ties with unofficial allies who have greater political heft internationally, this serves to make Taiwan complicit in human rights violations in such countries.