Representation image. AFP / Bryan R. Smith

Ecuadoran President Guillermo Lasso will meet with President Joe Biden at the White House Monday to discuss security and other issues -- delicately trying to balance his nation's deep interests with both the United States and China.

Lasso arrives in Washington with a list of priorities. At the top is securing help in battling drug cartels that have waged open warfare in Ecuador's streets and prisons.

Drug-related violence prompted Lasso to declare a state of emergency in November in parts of Ecuador, which is sandwiched between Colombia and Peru, the world's largest producers of cocaine.

John Kirby, the spokesman for the US National Security Council, said Friday that the two presidents, who last met in June at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, will discuss ways to boost cooperation in the battle against drugs.

Trade will be another prime topic. The two leaders will discuss regional economic initiatives, including the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity (APEP), aimed at mobilizing investment, promoting clean energy and strengthening supply chains, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday.

Like other Latin American countries, Ecuador seeks to avoid the global rivalry between the United States and China by remaining on good terms with Washington while benefiting from Beijing's open wallet.

Ecuador's first conservative president in 14 years is looking forward to concluding a free-trade pact with China after nearly 10 months of negotiations.

Biden is expected to focus on the immigration crisis at the US border with Mexico, where US agents intercepted more than 2.2 million migrants in the year that ended September 30, according to the US Customs and Border Protection office.

Ecuadorans constitute a relatively small share of the migrants. Still, their numbers have grown sharply this year, from 600 in January to 5,000 in September, according to official data.

Quito has set a good example on migration, Kirby said, noting it had regularized Venezuelan migrants and refugees living in Ecuador.

He also applauded Lasso for condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, another issue for the White House talks.

The two leaders will also explore opportunities for collaboration once Ecuador assumes a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council starting January 1.

Days before Lasso's visit, Ecuador got some good news from Washington.

The International Monetary Fund approved the immediate disbursement of $700 million after completing a final review of a fund facility for Ecuador aimed at supporting its recovery from the pandemic, ensuring fiscal stability and expanding protections for vulnerable people.

And the US Congress passed a bipartisan bill for the 2023 fiscal year that aims to help strengthen democratic institutions, foster more inclusive growth, and support environmental initiatives and the fight against corruption, crime and "malign foreign influence."

Robert Menendez, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said Ecuador has become a "model" for the region.

But at home, Lasso has been navigating troubled waters, marked by anti-government demonstrations led by the powerful Indigenous movement known as Conaie, which played a role in uprisings that brought down three presidents between 1997 and 2005.

Lasso and Conaie have put aside their differences for now, but for how long remains unclear.

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