U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined several challenges being faced by democracies in the Western Hemisphere in a speech Wednesday in Ecuador but said he is optimistic they can be overcome, while noting the survival of a democracy driven by ordinary people is vital to the shared future in the region.
Those challenges include corruption, civilian security, and tackling the economic and social issues facing the people.
“The reality is we’ve often put more energy into strengthening civil and political rights, as vital and important as they are — free and fair elections, the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly — and less into strengthening people’s economic and social rights, like bolstering labor standards, expanding access to adequate education and health, providing more inclusive opportunities. People across our hemisphere are demanding that we do both,” Blinken said Wednesday in a speech at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito.
The United States has for the first time designated fighting corruption as a core U.S. national security interest, Blinken noted, as Washington cracks down on illicit financing, and seizing and freezing stolen assets.
Since 2020, more than $10 billion has been invested by the U.S. in Latin America and the Caribbean through the International Development Finance Corporation. In Ecuador, the U.S. is working with the Banco de la Produccion to provide $150 million in loans this year to small businesses, especially those owned by women.
Blinken said these investments are done in a “transparent” manner and they treat local communities as “partners,” while drawing a stark contrast with the authoritarian governments that mire countries in the region “in a pernicious cycle of debt.”
Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso declared a surprise state of emergency to combat violence as the chief U.S. diplomat visits the South America country.
The security forces to carry out these measures must abide by international standards and be held accountable when they are not doing so,” Blinken emphasized during the speech as Lasso said he’s sending troops to the streets to combat drug trafficking.
In addition to democratic and human rights issues, another major focus of Blinken’s trip is migration, and in Bogota he will co-lead a meeting with foreign ministers from the region about a humane migration policy.
Speaking Tuesday alongside Ecuador’s foreign minister, Mauricio Montalvo, Blinken said migration is “challenging everyone in the hemisphere,” including in Ecuador, where thousands of Venezuelans have settled in recent years.
“The foreign minister and I tomorrow will be in Colombia, where we’re together with most of our colleagues in the hemisphere, to talk about what is so necessary right now, and that is a truly regional, coordinated approach of shared responsibility,” Blinken told reporters.
As Blinken was heading to Ecuador, Lasso declared a 60-day state of emergency to crack down on drug crime.
The two met Tuesday, and Blinken said Lasso assured him Ecuador’s government would uphold democratic values such as acting in accordance with the country’s constitution.
“We talked as well about the exceptional measures that have been taken here in Ecuador to deal with the narcotrafficking challenge and the violence and crime that is attendant with that,” Blinken told reporters. ”And we know that in democracies there are times when, with exceptional circumstances, measures are necessary to deal with urgencies and urgent situations like the one Ecuador is experiencing now.”
Blinken also praised Ecuador for its vaccination campaign against COVID-19.
VOA’s Chris Hannas contributed to this report. Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.