US Secretary of State Antony Blinken begins a tour of Latin American countries in Colombia on Monday, at a time when several key regional allies have recently elected leftist presidents.
The trip of the top US diplomat, whose country has recently focused more on Asia and the war in Ukraine, appears aimed in part at allaying concerns about US neglect of its hemisphere allies.
After Colombia, Blinken will travel to Chile and Peru.
His journey begins a day after a hard-fought first round election in Brazil, which left voters with a stark contrast between far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and left-wing challenger and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. There will be a runoff on October 30 after Bolsonaro did surprisingly well against heavily favored Lula.
Despite speculation that Bolsonaro might not accept an election defeat, Blinken said Sunday that the United States “shares Brazil’s confidence that the second round will be conducted in the same spirit of peace and civic duty.”
Blinken’s tour also follows a prisoner swap between the US and Venezuela, reflecting a cautious warming between the two, though Washington has never recognized Nicolas Maduro’s controversial re-election as president in 2018.
“We have never had stronger ties with this hemisphere,” Brian Nichols, US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, told reporters on Friday.
“We don’t judge countries by where they fall on the political spectrum, but rather by their commitment to democracy, the rule of law and human rights,” he said.
In Bogota, Blinken, who is making his second visit to Colombia as foreign minister, will meet Monday and Tuesday with President Gustavo Petro, who became the country’s first left-wing president in early August.
Aides said the two are expected to discuss drug trafficking and its impact on safety, health and the environment, and migration. US officials have called Colombia’s protection of migrants fleeing poverty and unrest in Venezuela a “model for the region”.
In August, when Petro took office, American officials said they were willing to have “open and honest” talks with him about the US-backed war on drugs. Those efforts have failed, Petro said, calling instead for efforts to reduce cocaine demand in developed countries.
Colombia, which has suffered from decades of civil war fueled in part by the drug trade, is the world’s top cocaine producer and the US is its main market.
– A busy OAS agenda –
Blinken will then travel to Santiago on Wednesday to speak with Chile’s leftist President Gabriel Boric.
Boric, a bearded 36-year-old who once led student protests, came to power in March.
The US diplomat will end his trip Thursday and Friday in Lima, where he will meet Peru’s socialist President Pedro Castillo, a former union leader who is the son of small farmers. Since Castillo came to power last year, several corruption and influence-peddling investigations have been launched.
During his stay in Lima, Blinken will attend the annual general assembly of the Organization of American States.
The OAS meeting, which brings together member countries from across the hemisphere, has a busy agenda.
It will consider a resolution calling for an end to “Russian aggression in Ukraine” – although some Latin American capitals have expressed reluctance – as well as resolutions on rights abuses in Nicaragua and the dire economic and political situation in Haiti.
Blinken will address U.S. concerns about democracy, immigration, human rights and climate change during his trip, according to a State Department statement on Friday.
Blinken is also expected to flesh out some of the themes of the Summit of the Americas, taking place in Los Angeles in June. It brought together leaders from the hemisphere and launched a partnership on immigration.