Well, I'm certainly off to an interesting start. This evening, on my flight from Beijing to Dalian, I was fortunate enough to be seated next to Mary Elizabeth "Lizzy" Flores Flake, a senator from Honduras who was also heading to the inaugural meeting of the World Economic Forum in Dalian--the "Summer Davos," as they're calling it.
Senator Flores,the youngest woman ever to serve as a legislator in Tegucigalpa, was elected on the Liberal Party ticket at the very top of a long slate of candidates, including her ex-husband. "He didn't make it onto the list" of representatives from her state, she told me with undisguised glee. Ballots featured pictures of the candidates--something that couldn't have worked against her. Her name probably didn't hurt either: Her father, Carlos Roberto Flores, is a newspaper publisher who served as president of Honduras from 1998 to 2002, and was in office when Hurricane Mitch struck on Halloween of 1998--destroying, as Senator Flores told me, some 75% of the country's infrastructure. He's now retired from politics, and writes an editorial in the paper his family still operates.
Senator Flores was educated in the U.S. at Loyola in New Orleans, and her mother, an American, came from Louisiana, north of Baton Rouge. She recently completed a law degree--something she says has made her a whole lot more comfortable with the legislative process. She's very clearly passionate about the work she's doing. "In Honduras, it's all about lifting people out of poverty," she says. The mountainous country of 7 million, half of whom are under 16 in age, is hoping to benefit as CAFTA brings trade goods moving north toward the U.S. through her country. Tourism--some Mayan ruins and offshore islands and coral reefs popular with divers--isn't a really big industry, says the Senator: "Tourists tend to be the backpacker types. The infrastructure just isn't there," she laments.
Honduras is experimenting with microfinance, she says, and with giving land title to the rural poor that can then be used as collateral for loans to kickstart small businesses. The Honduran countryside is impoverished, she says, and hasn't fully recovered from Mitch. Many people are without electricity or running water.
Much of her focus in on children. She's a mother of two, aged 14 and 9 ("I started early," she says), and so she's tuned into issues affecting the next generation of Hondurans. She talked to me about a government-funded school lunch program she just pushed through. And she told me that when her own mother gave her the World Bank literacy guidelines stipulating how many words per minute a child of a given school year should be able to read, she tested her own daughter and--finding her reading wanting--forced a whole summer's worth of tutoring on her to get her up to speed.
We couldn't of course avoid the topic of Honduras's recognition of Taiwan, and lack of diplomatic ties with the PRC. She says she's firmly committed to Taiwan, because it's a democracy--however flawed or comical that democracy is in action. She noted that Costa Rica, another of the handful of countries that still maintain formal diplomatic ties to Taipei, is being courted richly by Beijing, but hopes that their Central American neighbor will resist the lure.
As the most popular legislator from the capital city, which has 1.7 of Honduras's 7 million people, and as the daughter of a former president, she's naturally asked often whether she has presidential ambition. While not ruling it out, she says there are plenty of other things she wants to do in life as well--run a business, or write a book.
Looking forward to running into her again at the Forum, and meeting more colorful characters.