US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Ecuador Tuesday at the start of a three-day trip through Latin America intended to highlight democracy in the region.
Climate change and migration are expected to weigh heavily on his agenda. On Tuesday, he met with President Guillermo Lasso, a conservative former banker and Washington favorite since his unanticipated victory earlier this year.
"We admire the strong voice for democracy that you have shared with the Ecuadorean people, but also for people throughout our hemisphere," Blinken told Lasso.
On Monday, Lasso declared a 60-day state of emergency to fight drug trafficking, announcing he is sending the military and police to the streets just as Blinken departed Washington.
Blinken will also meet Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Mauricio Montalvo during his visit to discuss regional challenges like migration.
Biden's global democracy agenda
US President Joe Biden dispatched his top diplomat to the region to shore up democracy and reverse gains made by autocrats under his predecessor Donald Trump.
Biden is also hoping to make progress on issues related to climate change and keep the pressure on left-leaning authoritarians like Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
Prior to Blinken's departure, the Biden administration praised the conservative leaders of Ecuador and Colombia, asserting they are defenders of democracy in an increasingly troubled region.
The US has also stepped up talks with Brazil where another Trump ally, President Jair Bolsonaro, said he might not accept the results of next year's election.
Muni Jensen, a former Colombian diplomat who is now a senior adviser at the Albright Stonebridge Group, told AFP, "It's a big democracy trip for Secretary Blinken but it's also a realignment of the relationship with democratic Latin America beyond the traditional issues that have dominated the conversation for many years," such as security and disrupting the drug trade.
Other expected highlights of Blinken's time in Ecuador
On Wednesday night, Blinken will deliver a speech in the Ecuadorean capital Quito where he is expected to lob strong criticism at the region's leftist strongmen in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.
The speech will come days after a close aide of Nicolas Maduro, Alex Saab, was extradited to the US on money laundering charges stemming from the theft of money marked for food aid.
Next stop: Colombia
After Ecuador, Blinken will travel to Colombia. The president there, Ivan Duque, who has come under fire for his crackdown on protesters, was also an ally of former President Trump.
Colombia has pleased the Biden administration, though, by adopting some of the most ambitious targets on climate change in the region ahead of next month's high-stakes UN summit on climate, COP26.
In Bogota, Blinken will meet ministers from the region to discuss a humane migration policy. Many desperate Haitians have tried in recent weeks to make the long journey to the US, with Colombia as their jumping off point.
ar/sri (AFP, Reuters)