Honduran diplomat Javier Valladares is taking the next step in his career after more than a decade in Ottawa.
Mr. Valladares is set to take a position in Honduras’s Chicago consulate later this month, fulfilling a new policy implemented by the Honduran government that requires diplomats to complete a year of service in the country’s consulates abroad before being eligible for the rank of ambassador, he said in an interview.
He leaves a legacy of diplomatic work in Ottawa, including service as dean of the second-in-charge Latin diplomats group and in the Association of Hondurans Residing in Ottawa, which he founded in 2003. He also leaves good relations between the two countries, thanks in part to the nearly four years he spent as Honduras’s chargé d’affaires over several spells between ambassadors.
During a farewell lunch at the Latin diplomats group, he revealed to his astonished counterparts that he’s attended 46 similar functions for departing deputies during his long tenure here.
Mr. Valladares was told of his reposting with an abrupt phone call in February while on a visit to Honduras, in which his foreign minister asked him to decide whether he would prefer to move to Chicago, the Netherlands or back to Honduras. Chicago’s proximity to Ottawa, where his son will remain as a student at the University of Ottawa, made the choice an easy one, he said.
Mr. Valladares received a similar call 12 years ago while posted in El Salvador. A different Honduran minister called and told him, “Javier, you’re going to the North,” before hanging up.
The next week, a clarification: “Javier, you’re going to Canada.” Despite his protests that he did not speak English, he was reassigned to the Great White North and asked to learn on the job, which he has.
Keeping doors open
He’s worked with three Canadian governments (both Liberal and Conservative), under prime ministers Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin and Stephen Harper, and five Honduran presidents.
The apex of his time in Canada, he said, came during the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras, which saw his ambassador recalled to the country. Mr. Valladares served as chargé d’affaires for two years, maintaining ties with Canada even while many countries shrunk away from Honduras, and it was expelled from the Organization of American States.
Canada’s government was criticized in some quarters at the time for not taking a stronger stand against the coup, and continues to face criticism over its free trade agreement with Honduras, which has an alarmingly high rate of violent crime. Both sides signed the deal last year, and implementing legislation is working its way through Canada’s Parliament.
Mr. Valladares witnessed years of negotiations over that trade deal, and did his best to promote his country to Canadians and the Honduran diaspora, which numbers close to 200,000, he said.
While at the embassy’s helm in 2009, Mr. Valladares met several times with then-minister of state for foreign affairs Peter Kent to keep him abreast of the situation.
“The most important thing was [to] keep the friendship, [the] relations between my country and Canada,” he said.
After that episode, some of the senior envoys in Ottawa told him he had “graduated” to a new level of expertise, he said.
“We were in a very precarious situation,” Mr. Kent recalled in a phone interview, describing the government’s attempts to stay informed through “constant contact” with Honduran diplomats, while trying to do its part to prevent an “open civil war” in that country.
Mr. Valladares and others helped to “make sure the doors remained open,” he said.
His new role in Chicago will present its own set of challenges, primarily in aiding the thousands of Hondurans living there; many of them are undocumented. He’s been warned consulate staff field more than 200 calls each day.
His wife and daughter, 13, will join him there, and he plans to visit his son regularly, he said.
“I’ll never forget my friends here,” he said.
His best experience was “to know Canada” and its people, he said. Canadians are friendly and straightforward, he added.
“In this country, if you say ‘This is brown,’ this is brown. In my country, if you say, ‘This is brown,’ [maybe] this is red,” he said with a chuckle.