Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outlined the Trump administration's vision for Latin America for the first time Thursday, describing the region as a vital, enduring USA partner despite recent frictions over immigration and trade.
Tillerson left the campus to head to the first stop on his trip: Mexico City. They're expected to discuss not only Venezuela but also "the surge in coca cultivation and cocaine production, economic issues and the growing refugee population" from neighboring Venezuela, the State Department said.
The four Latin American countries that will visit Tillerson during seven days are those that have a harder position against the Venezuelan government in the region and participate in the Group of Lima focused on restoring Venezuela to democracy. "But there is no surprise that an agreement put in place 30 years ago, before the advance of the digital age and the digital economy, before Chinese rise as the second economy, the NAFTA needs to be modernized".
During his trip, which will cover Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Jamaica, Tillerson is expected to advance USA interests in the region by urging each of the countries to promote trade with Washington, while lecturing them on good governance and the fight against corruption. But that economic growth can only spring from strong, stable governments, he said.
On Thursday in Texas, Tillerson said the administration was not advocating for a "regime change" in Venezuela.
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During his speech at the Blanton Museum of Art, Tillerson outlined the U.S.'s commitment to supporting democratic values in Latin America.
"When individuals are living in poverty, a life of crime can look like the only opportunity available to make a living, legal and illegal immigration increases as people look for more opportunity elsewhere, and innocent people are more likely to become victims of drug cartels, human traffickers and corrupt law enforcement", he said.
Trump continues to insist that Mexico ultimately will pay for his promised border wall and must accept changes in the North American Free Trade Agreement or he'll quit the accord.
"We must address security and development issues side by side", Tillerson said. Patricia Zavala, Latin American studies and public affairs graduate student, asked about what can be done to combat government corruption in Latin America. "You always bleed orange once you've been here, and I think it's really cool to see that in prominent individuals".
To lay the groundwork, he appeared at his alma mater, the University of Texas, to flesh out the Donald Trump administration's approach to its southern neighbours.