Back to list

Diplomat prepares to move on after cementing Taiwan-Honduras ties

2019/04/04 20:40:20

Honduran Ambassador to Taiwan Rafael Fernando Sierra Quesada / CNA file photo

By Joseph Yeh, CNA staff reporter

Honduran Ambassador to Taiwan Rafael Fernando Sierra Quesada had never thought he would one day become a diplomat, let alone serve in a country thousands of miles away from home.

Prior to his posting in Taipei in 2015, Sierra's diplomatic experience was limited to a brief stint at the Honduran embassy in Washington, D.C. when he was a graduate student in the United States.

At the age of 38, he had acquired solid administrative experience in the Honduran National Congress and National Commission of Telecommunications and was a trusted member of President Juan Orlando Hernandez's administration.

Critics in Sierra's home country, however, did not see that as adequate preparation for his appointment by Hernandez as Honduras' ambassador to Taiwan, but the president stuck to his decision.

Sierra arrived in Taiwan in February 2015 to fill a post that had been left vacant for more than 18 months, which had given rise to speculations that Honduras was preparing to switch diplomatic recognition to China.

Four years later, diplomatic relations between Taiwan and the Central American country have grown to become the best in years, according to Sierra.

"Taiwan-Honduras ties are now stronger than ever," Sierra said at a recent lunch meeting with the Taiwanese media ahead of his imminent departure for Washington, where he will serve as second in command at the Honduran embassy.

He said that over the past four years in Taiwan, he has faced some struggles, but at no point were the decades-long bilateral ties jeopardized.

In fact, Sierra said, he managed to help strengthen and expand the diplomatic relations between the two countries, which have been in effect since 1941.

The big breakthrough came after his speech at an event in Taipei in September 2017 to mark Honduras' 196th anniversary of independence from Spain, he said.

In his address, Sierra urged Taiwan to invest more aggressively in Honduras, and the Central American region as a whole, to play a bigger role in the region's development and help create a mutually beneficial situation.

He said that after his speech, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who was at the independence celebrations, told him she had heard his message loud and clear.

"It's not about money, it's about doing things together," Sierra told reporters.

Not only has the ambassador been talking about expanding bilateral trade and investment, but he has been making strong efforts to realize that proposal.

Since 2015, many Taiwanese businesses have invested in Honduras or have set up branches there, Sierra said.

In Taiwan, the market has been opened to more Honduran products, including sugar, beef, melons and coffee, he said.

Statistics show that in 2014, Honduras was Taiwan's 94th largest trading partner worldwide, with an annual bilateral trade volume of US$118 million.

In 2018, the total trade volume between the two countries was US$153 million, and Honduras jumped to become Taiwan's 78th biggest trading partner globally, the data shows.

Sierra said, however, that he could not take full credit for the expanding trade relations, as Taiwan's Ambassador to Honduras Ingrid Hsing (邢瀛輝) had also made a great contribution.

The teamwork between the two of them has helped enhance relations between their countries, he said.

As he prepares to move on to his new assignment, Sierra said, his feelings are bittersweet.

On the one hand, he said, he is happy to be taking up a post in the U.S., which is a major ally of Honduras and where he will be much closer to his family back home, but on the other hand, it will be heartbreaking to leave a country he loves so much.

Even the biggest crisis he faced in Taiwan turned out to be a blessing in disguise, he said, referring to an incident that occurred in 2015, three months after his arrival, when he was wrongfully accused of hit-and-run of a scooter rider in Taipei.

Footage from the ambassador's dash cam showed that the scooter was in an illegal left turn when the accident occurred, and police later confirmed that the rider was underage and had been driving without a license.

The young man's family ultimately apologized to Sierra for falsely accusing him of hit and run.

As a result of the widely publicized traffic accident, Sierra said, he became the most well-known ambassador in Taiwan, which gave him an advantage in his diplomatic work.

For example, he said, he met at his embassy with many Taiwanese businessmen, who told him they had decided to do business in Honduras simply because they believed he was a good person, based on how he had handled the traffic accident issue.

"I am a Christian," he said "I believe that God works in mysterious ways. So He made me have this accident right after I arrived here. Something that was going to be bad became the best thing that happened to me."

Jose Maria Liu (劉德立), Taiwan's former vice foreign minister in charge of Central American and Caribbean affairs, told CNA in a recent interview that he worked closely with Sierra, who has made significant achievements in Taiwan.

As a result of Sierra's efforts, Taiwan Sugar Corp. is now working with Honduran farmers to build their coffee brands, which are already available on Taiwan's High Speed Railway service, said Liu.

With Sierra as the Honduran ambassador to Taiwan, there was little room for miscommunication between the two sides, because he maintained a direct communication channel with President Hernandez, whom he had served as aide, Liu said.

Sierra is a young and accomplished ambassador, with a very easy and down-to-earth personality, said Liu, who is now Taiwan's top representative to Spain.

"It's a pity he'll be leaving Taiwan soon," Liu said, adding that the ambassador will be greatly missed.

Sierra, meanwhile, said Taiwan will always hold a special place in his heart, as its mountainous terrain reminds him of Honduras.

The best aspect of Taiwan, however, is its people, he said.

"I can feel the love of the Taiwanese people, and that's something I will remember forever," Sierra said.