Presidents of Taiwan, Guatemala visit Mayan pyramid

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Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, center left, and Guatemala's President Alejandro Giammattei, walk to a staging area during their visit to the Mayan site Tikal, in Peten, Guatemala, Saturday, April 1, 2023. Tsai is in Guatemala for an official three-day visit. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

GUATEMALA CITY – Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and the Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei toured the archaeological site of Tikal on Saturday during a trip by Tsai that aims to shore up the self-governing island’s ties with its remaining allies in Central America.

The Taiwanese leader will visit Guatemala and Belize, the island’s only two remaining allies in Central America, where Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama and Costa Rica have all switched their support to China. Honduras broke relations with Taipei a week ago.

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Under a blazing sun Saturday, Tsai and Guatemalan Foreign Minister Mario Búcaro, representing Giammattei -- who suffers from multiple sclerosis – climbed one of the Mayans’ most important pyramids: Temple II, also called Temple of the Masks.

With incense, a Mayan invocation ceremony, a Mayan ball game and an exchange of gifts, Tsai and Giammattei talked as they enjoyed the central square of Tikal archaeological park.

The day before, in a joint message, the leaders spoke of unity, solidarity and the values shared by Guatemala and Taiwan.

Tsai thanked Guatemala’s government for its support, calling it an ally and partner. She has framed the trip as a chance to show Taiwan’s commitment to democratic values globally.

On Sunday, Tsai is scheduled to visit a hospital in the western department of Chimaltenango that was built with the help of a Taiwanese donation.

Before arriving in Guatemala, the Taiwanese president visited the United States. She will culminate her visit to Central America with a stop in Belize, before returning to the U.S.

The trip also is aimed to solidifying ties in Latin America as China funnels money into the region and pressures its countries to break off relations with the self-governed democratic island.

Between 2005 and 2020, the Chinese have invested more than $130 billion in Latin America, according to the United States Institute of Peace. Trade between China and the region has also shot up, and is expected to reach more than $700 billion by 2035.

Taiwan now has no more than 13 official diplomatic partners. More than half of those are small countries in Latin America and the Caribbean: Belize, Guatemala, Paraguay, Haiti, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

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