Michael D Higgins continues South America visit

President due to visit Colombia on Saturday after receiving Peru’s highest honour

President Michael D. Higgins  waves after being decorated with the Order of the Sun by Peru’s president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski at the Presidential Palace in Lima, Peru on Friday. Photograph: Reuters

President Michael D. Higgins waves after being decorated with the Order of the Sun by Peru’s president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski at the Presidential Palace in Lima, Peru on Friday. Photograph: Reuters


President Michael D Higgins ended his visit to Peru praising its ancient culture and expressing his gratitude for the honour bestowed on him by the Peruvian government, the Order of the Sun, or el Orden del Sol .

The honour was in recognition of Mr Higgins’s “interest in the defence and promotion of human rights, peace, democracy and inclusive citizenship, as well as culture,” President Kuczynski told the two delegations attending the ceremony at Lima’s presidential palace.

After holding talks in private both leaders pledged to “deepen bilateral relations and cooperation” between the two nations, highlighting the imminent opening of a Peruvian embassy in Dublin and marking the first ever visit by an Irish head of state to Peru.

Both leaders agreed to strengthen human capital and improve technological cooperation between the countries as well as boosting bilateral trade.

Speaking to journalists after the ceremony on Friday, Mr Higgins said it was important to expand bilateral relations in the current global context.

“Facing the challenges we’re now facing in relation to economics, in relation to trade, there is such immense value in building new networks and deepening the networks that we have, that is where I think that this visit will be very, very important,” he said.

President Kuczynski (78) said he and Mr Higgins had found many points in common, including concern about Brexit and the possible break up of the European Union.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Higgins hinted that Ireland was fast becoming a gateway to Europe, insisting on the importance of it remaining in the European Union.

“Very many people I speak to both in terms of investment, in terms of culture in tems of travel, in terms of education are interested in accessing Europe and are far, far more likely to access Europe through Ireland.”

In a visit which had focused on the historic link between the two countries dating back to the contribution made by Irish migrants to the independence struggles and nationalist movements in Peru and other Latin American countries, Mr Higgins was keen to stress that the United States was a “country of migrants” in spite of the immigration policies put forward by its head of state, Donald Trump.

“In Ireland we take the view that our people have been a migrant people for centuries. We mustn’t allow ourselves to simply get stuck in rut of rhetoric,” he said.

He made a veiled criticism of Mr Trump’s support for climate change deniers, without mentioning him by name.

“The issue of climate change and sustainable development are not academic issues, they are practical issues which arise today and will become more acute in the next decade,” he said.

“No one now contests the science (..) so one must be concerned if someone says the science is now contestable. Equally one must be concerned if someone says that migration must be resisted by closing borders,” he added.

Earlier on Friday, Mr Higgins and Mr Kuczynski presided over the signing of a series of agreements including a Declaration of Intent between the National Scholarship and Educational Loan Program (PRONABEC) of Peru and the University College Cork.

The new agreements built of previous ones ranging from cooperation between medical schools to joint research about potatoes which originated in what is now Peru some 8,000 years ago, said Cliona Maher, University College Cork’s International Strategy manager for Latin America.

Both presidents greeted the forthcoming start of operations of Viva Air Peru airline, as a result of Irish investment, which will fly between Lima and eight cities within Peru.

President Higgins continues his 10-day official tour of South America on Saturday travelling to Bogota, the capital of Colombia where he is scheduled to give an address on the country’s peace process.

It was important to “indicate international support for the (Colombian) peace process”, Mr Higgins told journalists on Friday.

“What is very clear is that, as our own peace process benefitted from the attention, detail and assistance of outsiders at crucial times, they very much welcome international attention in their peace process,” he said.

From Colombia the Irish delegation is scheduled to travel on to Cuba, the last leg of the tour.