The U.S. Navy’s USNS Comfort ship arrived in Ecuador Saturday to begin providing free medical care to the city of Esmeraldas along the northwest coast. It will see patients from between Oct. 22 and 26.
“Today, the USNS Comfort hospital ship arrived in Esmeraldas to provide medical care to those most in need,” the United States Embassy in Ecuador tweeted.
Comfort’s technical staff disembarked at the Balao oil terminal dock in Esmeraldas, Ecuador to begin installing medical equipment, according to EFE.
The Navy ship began making medical rounds this month and by December will have offered free service to Honduras, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru under the U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise Program.
According to the U.S. Southern Command those on board “will work alongside partners to provide medical assistance based on the needs identified by each host nation.” In Ecuador, 53 Ecuadorean university students will support Comfort activities.
“This mission is a symbol of what can be accomplished when partners work together to aid people in need,” said U.S. Navy Adm. Kurt Tidd, commander of U.S. Southern Command in its official statement regarding the two-month medical brigade. Tidd called the deployment in Ecuador, “humanitarian in nature.”
This is the latest in SouthCom’s attempt at soft relations with Ecuador over the past several months under President Lenin Moreno (2017-present).
Last June Ecuador’s “military hosted a team of soldiers from the Kentucky National Guard” that focused on military vehicle maintenance. The Kentucky based squad visited the country’s capital of Quito and the major port city, Guayaquil.
As well, in early October, the U.S. military reinitiated its ‘fly-over’ program in which U.S. planes will surveil “Ecuador’s coast for three to four days every month to ‘fight against drug trafficking, organized crime, human trafficking, illegal fishing, and contraband’ ”, according to The Progressive.
Former Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa (2008) won domestic and regional praise when in 2009 he made good on a campaign pledge to not renew the U.S. Navy lease for its base located along Ecuador’s Pacific coast, citing national sovereignty and long-held U.S. imperialism in the region for the change.
“The arrival of the vessel is part of the strengthening of defense cooperation between the governments of Ecuador and the United States,” added Ecuador’s Ministry of Defense.
Moreno also received U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Quito earlier in June where they signed military cooperation agreements, reportedly discussed Julian Assange’s asylum, as well agreeing on a US$10 million loan to Ecuador in order to deal with the “Venezuelan migration crisis.”