On democracy tour, Blinken says Ecuador offers rights assurances
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Quito (AFP) –
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday hailed Ecuador as a sign of democracy's success and said he secured promises to respect human rights as the country's new leader declared a state of emergency to combat violence.
President Guillermo Lasso ordered troops to the streets to combat drug trafficking hours before the arrival of Blinken, who is seeking to highlight good-news stories on democracy in Latin America.
After a welcome by the trumpets of guards in royal blue as well as strumming guitarists, Blinken pointed to Ecuador's success in vaccinating more than half the population under Lasso, a businessman who earlier this year unexpectedly was elected the country's first right-leaning leader in more than a decade.
"We appreciate very much that you are demonstrating convincingly that democracy can deliver real results for our people," Blinken said at Quito's colonial-era Carondelet Palace.
Lasso ordered police and troops to carry out a 60-day crackdown on drug crime, a surprise order announced just as Blinken was leaving Washington.
Lasso hailed ties with the United States, telling Blinken, "More than ever, Ecuador today shares the values that have guided the United States to prosperity since its founding."
Blinken will deliver a speech Wednesday from Quito on democracy in which he is likely to take aim at leftist autocratic leaders such as Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, who has snapped off dialogue with the US-backed opposition.
- 'Exceptional measures' -
Blinken voiced understanding over Ecuador's state of emergency, saying that "democracies at times need to take exceptional measures to ensure the safety and security of their citizens."
But he said that operations "need to be very focused in what they are seeking to achieve and finite in duration and, of course, follow and proceed in a way that upholds democratic principles."
Lasso "assured me that his government is committed to upholding all of those standards, which are so important to the Ecuadorian people," Blinken said.
Speaking next to Blinken, Foreign Minister Mauricio Montalvo said Ecuador wanted support from the United States "as we are battling a situation of transnational crime" including in drugs and human trafficking.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas chief at Human Rights Watch, criticized Lasso's move, saying, "The armed forces are trained for war, not keeping public order."
Ecuador's move comes a day before Blinken heads to Colombia, also led by an assertive right-wing president, Ivan Duque, a close ally of former US president Donald Trump.
Duque has come under fire from progressives within President Joe Biden's Democratic Party over the killings of dozens of people in a crackdown on protests this year.
Biden has yet to meet Duque but his administration has largely kept up support, seeing Colombia as a democracy in a region of growing political turbulence.
Seeking to broaden the relationships beyond security, Blinken is addressing two key issues for the Biden administration -- climate change and migration.
In Bogota, Blinken will meet with ministers from around the region on a humane migration policy amid a spike of desperate Haitians seeking to make the long trek to the United States from Colombia.
- Message to China -
Biden has vowed to support democracy after Trump's flirtation with autocrats. But US presidents have cast a broader goal of competing with a rising China which has made rapid inroads into Latin America, lending billions of dollars to Ecuador alone.
While the Trump administration tried to cast a stark choice for the world between the United States and China, the Biden team has sent a similar message with a lighter touch.
"We're not asking countries to choose between the United States and China," Blinken said, calling trade with the Asian power "usually beneficial."
Instead, Blinken said he spoke to Ecuador's leaders about "making sure that when it comes particularly to investments in sensitive areas that they get the scrutiny that they deserve."
The United States has especially warned nations about embracing technology from China, fearing that Beijing will exploit data to target opponents at home and abroad.
Montalvo said that Ecuador hoped for strong relationships with both countries, the world's two largest economies.
Ecuador will "follow a foreign policy that is entirely pragmatic and realistic but that also shares the core values of the United States," he said.
© 2021 AFP