Honduras – Friends reunited

When you meet the Ambassador of Honduras, there is a good chance you will be linked in some way to his global network of friends established over a 37-year career.

In that time, Ivan Romero-Martinez has been ambassador to no less than 18 countries – starting as Permanent Representative to the UN in Switzerland; Spain, concurrently with Egypt and Morocco; Dominican Republic, concurrently with Jamaica and Haiti; Colombia; Belgium, concurrently with the Netherlands and Luxembourg; the UK; Sweden, concurrently with Denmark, Finland and Norway and Ireland; finishing off as Ambassador in New York.

He has also has the rare distinction to have presented his credentials to every monarch in Europe and the Maghreb and has photo albums by the drawer load to prove it.

Born in Honduras’s intellectual city, Olanchito, the Ambassador inherited his prodigious networking and information-gathering talent from his father, Dionisio Romero Narvaez, a famous writer, journalist, newspaper publisher and politician, who was mayor three times and a member of parliament.

“As an ambassador of a small country, you have to work a little harder,” says Romero-Martinez, whose energetic networking has single-handedly extended his country’s global reach.

This proved invaluable in the aftermath of the deadly Hurricane Mitch which struck Honduras in 1998. Then, as the President’s diplomatic adviser, he worked tirelessly to rally international donors to help Honduras.

During the emergency, Romero-Martinez fostered close relations
with the Scandinavian donor countries, which were cemented in formal diplomatic relations and a posting
to Stockholm.

The Ambassador then wasted no time in forging diplomatic ties with the neighbouring Baltic states.

A historic turning point also came when Ambassador Romero-Martinez represented Honduras at the Ibero-American Summit in Havana, after which diplomatic ties with Cuba were restored.

The Ambassador’s father was a champion of free speech in Honduras, even during the military dictatorships when he was forced to live in exile, and it is something Romero-Martinez has adopted during his career.

“I am a fighter for human rights like my father,” says the Ambassador, who used the platform of Honduras’s Presidency of the UN General Assembly, to raise issues such as child soldiers, violence against women, HIV Aids, as well as climate change and migration.

His courage was tested in 1984, when, as the youngest Ambassador to Spain aged 35, he faced difficult questions as his country became embroiled in the problems of the Central American region during the Cold War.

“I believe passionately in freedom of speech and I spoke against the military regime,” he says. “I also tried to help my country become independent of these two superpowers.”

During his posting, Romero-Martinez established a good relationship with King Juan Carlos as well as Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, both of whom went on to be influential in the Central American peace process.

The conflicts in Central America are now past and the region is entering a renewed era of cooperation, he says, pointing to a print of Honduran national hero Francisco Morazan, the president of the Central American federation of the 19th century, which is prominently positioned on his wall.

“Central America is a good example of conflict resolution,” he says. “All our disputes are now handled peacefully at the International Court of Justice.”

The Ambassador has returned to London after a decade – unusually swapping places with his son Ivan, who has headed to the UN in New York. But since he was last here, Britain has shut down embassies in a number of Central American countries, including Honduras.

While he accepts that all ministries are under strict budget constraints and that other countries might be in greater need of assistance, he points to difficult social problems plaguing Honduras, which are typical of a post-conflict society.

“Our President is focusing on poverty reduction and the fight against violence, but we can’t do it on our own. We need international cooperation, shared technology and experience to help us solve these social ills,” he says.

The Ambassador will urge the FCO to consider re-opening an embassy in Tegucigalpa, but in the meantime, he hopes British tourists will be the unofficial ambassadors, visiting his country’s beaches, forests and spectacular ancient Mayan ruins.

Diplomacy is an all-consuming passion for the Ambassador, which doesn’t leave room for much else.

But he is a collector and in his spare time he likes to add to his collections of icons, walking canes, and his biggest collection of all – friends.