Negroponte begins tense Latin American tour

Colombia may reconsider its alliance with Washington if the US Congress fails to ratify a free trade deal.

US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte has arrived in Colombia on Wednesday to improve ties with the South American nation soon after its Vice president Francisco Santos said Bogota "might need to re-evaluate its relationship with the United States" if the trade pact is jettisoned. Then, Negroponte will fly to Ecuador, where the leftist leader Rafael Correa recently cancelled a trade-protection deal with the US; he is closing down the American military base in Ecuador and has thrown out the World Bank representative.

Later in the tour, Negroponte will be warmly welcomed by the authorities of Peru and Panama, where the US diplomat will try to counter the influence of the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. His tour follows President George W Bush's five-nation tour of the region in March.

In the capital, Bogota, Mr Negroponte praised US ties with Colombia and restated support for a free-trade deal. At the same time, his boss, Condoleezza Rice urged the US Congress to ratify the free trade deal, which is being resisted by democratic lawmakers.

Negroponte held talks with President Alvaro Uribe and other top officials. He said that he hoped Colombia "would soon benefit from the approval by our Congress" of the trade pact.

The state of the bilateral relation between the United States and Ecuador is far from being normal. In Quito, the Ecuadorean government will coldly welcome Mr. Negroponte, who is expected to talk about the intentions of President Correa to close down the US Army military base operating in the country.

The White House is concerned about the decision of President Correa, as the one in Ecuador is the only US permanent base operating in South America.

Also, Ecuador has decided not to renew a bilateral investment treaty with the United States, as the country's foreign minister said Monday, just days before Negroponte’s visit. Maria Fernanda Espinosa said President Rafael Correa, a U.S.-trained economist, will not renew the agreement that expires this week, but is 'totally open' to discussing 'an alternative that mutually guarantees the investments of each country.'

To bring back Correa to the negotiations’ table, Negroponte will threat Ecuador with a U.S. deny to another extension of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, a package of trade benefits offered in exchange for cooperation in counter-drug activities.

All this issues are waiting for the former chief of intelligence in his non pleasant visit to South America.

Hernan Etchaleco

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Author`s name Alex Naumov