Friday 19 December 2014

Higgins begins 11-day Central American visit

Published 20/10/2013 | 05:00

Long ties with the region: President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina's first stop is Mexico

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina arrive in Mexico today to begin an 11-day official visit to Central America.

The President, alongside Minister of State for Trade and Development Joe Costello, will take in three countries – Mexico, El Salvador and Costa Rica.

The main strands of Mr Higgins's trip are trade, cultural and development issues.

The 72-year-old President spent a part of last summer in Spain revising his Spanish for the official visit.

The trip marks a 35-year relationship he has had with Central America.

His first official act will be today when he lays a wreath at the memorial of the Battallon de San Patricio in Mexico City. The memorial remembers the soldiers of Irish and European descent who fought for the Mexican army in the American-Mexican war of 1846-1848.

Mr Higgins, an international human rights activist, had campaigned tirelessly both here and abroad against oppression. He visited El Salvador in the Eighties when tens of thousands were being slaughtered by US-backed military groups.

His work was praised by missionaries there and in 1985 he was one of only four TDs to join the public protest against US president Ronald Reagan's visit to Ireland.

On Tuesday, the President will be the first ever head of state to address the Mexican business summit. This will be his first keynote speech of the trip. He will attend the Camerata Ireland concert later that day at the Centro Nacional de las Artes.

The visit to El Salvador begins on Thursday when President Higgins will be presented with the keys of the city by the acting Mayor of San Salvador, Gloria Calderon Sol de Onate.

He will meet the President of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, and be honoured with the Jose Matias Delgado state award and later address the Salvadoran National Assembly.

The President will visit the Universidad Centroamericana and the chapel in which six Jesuits, murdered in the university in November 1989 with two female co-workers, are interred.

He will also be presented with an award by the rector of Universidad Centroamericana in recognition of his work for human rights in the Eighties.

The El Salvador leg winds up with a visit to the Cuscatlan Park to view the Monument to Memory and Truth commemorating all those who lost their lives during the country's wars of the Eighties.

Mr Higgins will meet with representatives of Salvadoran civil-society organisations whose work on issues such as reconciliation, social inclusion and development has been support by Trocaire and the Irish Government.

In Costa Rica, he will meet President Laura Chinchilla and attend a round-table meeting with El Estado de la Nacion, a think-tank supported by local universities that focuses on themes related to sustainable development.

The President will also make an address on human rights.

Sunday Independent

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