U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Latin America this week to discuss ways to tackle irregular migration, as Colombia hosts nearly 2 million Venezuelan migrants and Ecuador also hosts a large number.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement Tuesday that Blinken spoke Tuesday with Chile’s foreign minister and Colombia’s vice president and thanked them for co-hosting Wednesday’s “Migration Ministerial” in Bogota and for “granting Temporary Protective Status to nearly 2 million Venezuelan migrants.”

In a separate statement, Price said Blinken spoke with Chile’s foreign minister and expressed his appreciation for participating in Wednesday’s meeting and for “Chile’s ongoing support for refugees and migrants from the region, particularly from Venezuela and Haiti.”

“They touched on shared goals in the bilateral relationship, including immediate actions to collaboratively support orderly, safe, and humane migration in the region, and halt the uncontrolled flow of irregular migrants through the hemisphere,” the statement added.

Venezuela is said to be high on the agenda as Blinken visits Ecuador and Colombia this week, his first visit to South America as the top U.S. diplomat.

On Tuesday, Blinken meets in Quito with Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso and Foreign Minister Mauricio Montalvo to continue discussions on democratic governance and issues such as counternarcotics and migration.

The U.S. called for political talks to resume between Venezuela’s government and the country’s opposition, saying the extradition of a close ally of President Nicolás Maduro to the U.S. is a matter separate from the negotiations.

Maduro’s government announced last weekend it would halt the talks after Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman accused of money laundering on behalf of Venezuela’s government, had been extradited to the United States from Cape Verde to face charges.

On Monday, a senior State Department official said the Maduro regime could demonstrate its seriousness about forging a better future for the Venezuelan people and alleviating the humanitarian crisis “by returning to the table” to continue talks with the Unitary Platform, an opposition political alliance.

“If [the] Maduro regime was serious about its stated concerns of the Venezuelan people, they would actually sit down with their fellow countrymen and work toward solutions. And if they make progress in that regard, the United States will welcome it,” Brian Nichols, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said during a call briefing.

On Wednesday, Blinken will deliver a speech on the importance of democracy. The State Department said he will showcase “how inclusive and responsive democratic institutions” can implement economic policies that emphasize “inclusive growth and environmental protection.”

In Bogota, Blinken will meet with Colombian President Iván Duque and Vice President and Foreign Minister Marta Lucía Ramírez to advocate for “strong democratic governments” in the region. Later this week, he will open the U.S.-Colombia High-Level Dialogue.

 

“The secretary’s visit to both Colombia and Ecuador sends a clear signal that we support a vibrant and inclusive democracy that respects the rights of their citizens,” Nichols told reporters during the telephone briefing.

Saab’s extradition to the U.S. is seen to further complicate relations between Washington and Caracas, as Maduro’s government fiercely rejected prosecution against Saab, claiming it was a concealed attempt by the U.S. to oust the regime in Venezuela.

“The criminal charges against Alex Saab long predate and have no relation to the political negotiations between the Unitary Platform and the Maduro regime. These operate on a second track,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said during a briefing on Monday.

“It is often difficult for undemocratic, autocratic, repressive governments to understand a simple and fundamental truth about how we operate in this country, and that is that our law enforcement is independent of politics, of policy,” Price added.