SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Hillary Clinton calls for a new approach to Latin America in her new book out this week, and she told NPR that that began with an attempt to try to normalize relations with Cuba so the issue wouldn't get in the way of relations with others.
HILLARY CLINTON: It's really important that we pay more attention to our own hemisphere. And there's some great opportunities that we can pursue if we take a more creative, more collaborative approach to working with the rest of the hemisphere.
SIMON: When Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, the administration tried to improve ties with some leftist leaders to the south, but they didn't get far. Now, some analysts say the U.S. is likely to focus on only less difficult partners. NPR's Michele Kelemen met with an ambassador who's hoping the U.S. won't give up on her country.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: In her cavernous office in the art filled Embassy of Ecuador, Nathalie Cely sips on a cup of coffee, talking about her job here in Washington. It hasn't been an easy couple of years.
AMBASSADOR NATHALIE CELY: It's been difficult. And I'm not going to deny that. It's been difficult. It's been also difficult to educate different actors here in the United States about what is the government of President Correa about.
KELEMEN: Rafael Correa has been president for seven years and was a close ally of the late leftist president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. But Ambassador Cely says there's much more to him.
CELY: Sometimes, you have, here, a tendency of oversimplifying things and see things in sort of, like, black and white lenses, you know. Either you are in a good left camp or in the bad left camp.
KELEMEN: Ecuador is often put, unfairly, she says, in the bad left camp. While the ambassador is seeking a more pragmatic relationship with Washington, Correa has other advisors who don't seem to care. That's according to Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue who says Correa's anti-American positions, his decision to grant asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his support for NSA leaker Edward Snowdon, have served him well at home.
MICHAEL SHIFTER: Correa is doing very well without having a strong relationship with U.S. government. He is getting a lot of financing from China. Oil has been doing well. His economy is growing. He's got huge amounts of support, and so there may be very little incentive for him to come close to the United States.
KELEMEN: And Shifter says Correa wants relations with Washington on his own terms with less lecturing and no U.S. aid programs to promote civil society. So he doesn't think the Obama administration is going to invest much there.
SHIFTER: There are other priorities, and there are limited resources, diplomatic resources and economic resources - so better to strengthen relationships with governments like Colombia and Peru and Chile and Mexico and reach out to Brazil than to spend a lot of time trying to establish a better relationship with Ecuador. I think the U.S. government is open to that, but, clearly, it's been very, very difficult.
KELEMEN: Ambassador Cely tries to put the best spin on the recent decisions by Ecuador not to renew agreements with U.S. Agency for International Development. She says Ecuador has different needs as a middle-income country, and the way the U.S. government doles out aid wasn't working for her country anymore. She's hoping that a visit by the assistant secretary of state for the western hemisphere next month will help the two countries reset relations.
CELY: We have noticed that Latin America is not at the top of the priority list of this administration. And in some ways, that's OK. I mean, Latin America is now a middle-income continent that doesn't, perhaps, requires the United States having this tutelage role in Latin American. But I think, also, there are a lot of opportunities.
KELEMEN: She likes to say that there are a million reasons for better relations. There are more than a million Ecuadorians living in the U.S. and a growing number of Americans choosing to retire in Ecuador. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.