Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton travels to Latin America and the Caribbean with a crowded agenda awaiting: lingering tensions over last year's coup in Honduras, U.S. immigration policy, security issues and concerns over Iran and the Middle East.
Clinton departed Sunday on her seventh trip to the region as the top U.S. diplomat, with a schedule that included an Organization of American States meeting in Peru as well as later stops in Ecuador, Colombia and Barbados.
At all points, officials say, she will stress the Obama administration's commitment to the Western Hemisphere and support for democracy.
The most contentious topic facing the OAS — whether to readmit Honduras to the regional bloc — isn't on the agenda at Monday's annual OAS General Assembly in Lima. But it will loom large over the discussions, with the U.S. at odds with numerous other member countries on the matter.
The U.S. wants Honduras allowed back into the organization following elections that brought the current president, Porfirio Lobo, to power after the June 2009 coup that ousted his predecessor, Manuel Zelaya. Other governments, notably Brazil, Venezuela and Nicaragua, are opposed and insist that Zelaya be allowed to return home first.
"President Lobo has done everything he has said he would do," Clinton told reporters Sunday. "He has been very committed to pursuing a policy of reintegration."
Arturo Valenzuela, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, acknowledged Friday that "there are continuing concerns over human rights violations in Honduras and that certain steps still need to be taken in order to bring about a process of national reconciliation."
Also of great concern in Latin America is Arizona's new immigration law, which some believe will lead to racial profiling. While this, too, is not on the formal agenda, Clinton probably will get an earful about it from her colleagues even though President Barack Obama has said the law is "poorly conceived" and "not the right way to go."
The law requires that police conducting traffic stops or questioning people about possible legal violations ask them about their immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they're in the United States illegally. Reasonable suspicion is not defined.
The law, which takes effect July 29 unless blocked by a court as requested under pending legal challenges, also makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally or to impede traffic while hiring day laborers, regardless of the worker's immigration status. It would become a crime for illegal immigrants to solicit work.
OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza has called the law "an issue of concern to all citizens of the Americas, beginning with the citizens of the United States." Other nations have complained loudly about it.
In separate talks on the sidelines of the Lima meeting, Clinton is expected to press for support for new U.N. penalties against Iran over its nuclear program. Brazil recently worked with Turkey to broker an agreement with Iran that would avert fresh penalties.
Brazil, which opposes U.N. penalties against Iran, is an elected member of the U.N. Security Council, where the U.S. hopes to bring a fourth sanctions resolution to a vote in the coming days.
From Peru, Clinton travels to Ecuador for talks with President Rafael Correa and to deliver a speech outlining the administration's broad policy toward the region, which has a heavy emphasis on fighting the narcotics trade.
On Sunday, Clinton mentioned the situation in Jamaica, where bloody street battles erupted last month as authorities searched for a reputed drug lord. "Even countries with stable political systems and trained police forces and military assets can be facing tremendous challenges from these well-organized drug traffickers," she said.
In Colombia, a major ally that had been the recipient of massive U.S. aid to combat drug trafficking, she will see the departing president, Alvaro Uribe.
She plans to meet with the two candidates to succeed Uribe: former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, who helped craft the current president's popular security policies, and rival Antanas Mockus, the ex-two-time mayor of Bogota who has promised clean government and a tax increase. The candidates are in a June 20 runoff election.
Clinton will close out the trip in Bridgetown, Barbados, where she will see foreign ministers from Caribbean island nations to discuss endemic crime, violence and narco-trafficking.
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