First lady Jill Biden touts US commitment to South and Central America in Ecuador speech

First lady Jill Biden spent her first full day of a trip through South and Central America on Thursday, using a speech at the Carondelet presidential palace in Quito, Ecuador, to emphasize the importance of global assistance and building alliances.

The first lady used her remarks, made before a speech by Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso, to tout America's commitment to this part of the world.

"You know, Joe and I hope that you know that he cares deeply about you, and I do too. And that's why I'm here today," said Biden, who on Friday departs for Panama before going on to Costa Rica. "The United States is committed to Ecuador."

The first lady's tour is meant to emphasize the role of the US in partnering with each country and those nations' commitment to democracy, according to her office. The trip comes as the Biden administration faces several challenges on the immigration front, including a heated debate over Title 42, a Trump-era pandemic restriction that allows migrants to be turned away at the US-Mexico border because of the public health crisis.

The visit also serves as a precursor to the Summit of the Americas, being held in June in Los Angeles. The summit convenes every three to four years and brings together leaders of North, South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean. This year will be the first time the United States has hosted the summit since its inception in 1994.

Biden's speech touched on next month's Summit of the Americas, which is already facing the threat of boycott by Mexico unless Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are invited. US officials have repeatedly said the governments of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela will not be invited to the summit due to their human rights records. As host country, the US has the privilege of selecting leaders to be invited to the summit.

"In June, Joe and I are excited to invite leaders and their spouses to Los Angeles, California, for the Summit of the Americas. At this summit, our leaders have a very ambitious agenda, to come together on things like achieving an equitable and sustainable future," Biden said.

The first lady also cautioned against the scourge of political corruption in the region.

"If one nation is vulnerable to ... authoritarianism ... or poverty, it won't be long before those same problems reach us all," Biden said. "But when nations here in South America embrace democracy, you become a living proof that governments can deliver for the people that they represent -- inspiring others to follow."

Those warnings were also interwoven with reminders of the travails of the last several years, especially the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Injustice and corruption, poverty and pollution, disease and despair. They aren't contained by any borders," Biden said. "If we learned anything from the Covid-19 pandemic, from these last few years of sickness and sorrow, it's how one deadly virus can move through the world. How hunger and violence are woven together. How a war in Europe can ripple through stock markets and supermarkets. And here, how the loss of trees in your Amazon can take a piece of the future from all of us."