Roberts Gates made his first trip to Latin America as U.S. defense secretary and began his five-country tour with a stop Tuesday in El Salvador—the only nation in the region with troops stationed in Iraq. The secretary's tour includes visits to Colombia, Peru, Chile, and Suriname to focus on Washington's defense and security ties in Latin America. He will likely discuss relocation of the U.S. military base stationed in Ecuador, where the government has elected not to renew the Pentagon's lease of a base in Manta.
The secretary's visit, originally planned for July but rescheduled for an Iraq War progress briefing to U.S. Congress, has been overshadowed by President Mahmoud Amadinejad's trip to Bolivia and Venezuela. The Iranian leader pledged economic aid and investment in the region. Gates' trip also follows an October 1 meeting between Thomas Shannon, assistant U.S. secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro. The two envoys met in New York to discuss their nations' troubled bilateral relations, efforts to secure the release of hostages kidnapped by rebels in Colombia, and a possible future trip by Shannon to Caracas.
A recent editorial co-authored by COA's Eric Farnsworth examines trade policy as a means to boost U.S.-Latin American relations.