February 17, 2018

What Lies Ahead During Tillerson's Latin American Odyssey

02 February 2018, 09:36 | Kara Nash

Tillerson calls for 'modernized' NAFTA ahead of trip to Mexico

Sec. of State Rex Tillerson to outline Latin America policy priorities at UT Austin

Prior to his departure from Austin, Texas, on Thursday, Tillerson said in a speech at the University of Texas at Austin that the Western Hemisphere is a "priority" for the United States "for reasons other than simply our geographic proximity".

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.

Argentinian President Mauricio Macri has enjoyed a close business relationship with Donald Trump that dates back to 1980s, and was one of the first to congratulate the American mogul when the latter was elected as president.

Videgaray, who flew to Washington earlier this week ahead of Tillerson's arrival, is Pena Nieto's most trusted adviser, and has forged close ties with Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who serves as a senior advisor to the president.

While aiming to enhance energy cooperation with Latin American nations, Tillerson lashed out at Venezuela, a country with vast oil reserves whose people have been impoverished by a crippling economic crisis.

Tillerson has adopted an optimistic approach, whatever Trump's rhetoric.

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After the speech, the 65-year-old former oil executive was to fly to Mexico for a working dinner with Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray and senior United States and Mexican legal and security officials. "I understand how important NAFTA is for our economy and that of the continent", Tillerson told students at his alma mater, the University of Texas, on Thursday before flying south. "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". For example, if NAFTA were canceled, Mexico might be less interested in cooperating in issues of national security or immigration. He then travels to Argentina, Peru, Colombia and wraps up his travels in Jamaica on February 7.

Before kicking off his tour of Latin American countries, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave a speech Thursday in Austin saying the Trump administration's policy for the Western Hemisphere is built on promoting democratic values, strengthening economies and countering "predatory actors" that include Russian Federation and China.

"Latin America does not need a new imperial power", he said.

With a laugh, Tillerson said if Maduro left, "I'm sure that he's got some friends over in Cuba that could give him a nice hacienda on the beach".

"The Venezuelan people suffer because of a corrupt regime that steals form its own people", said Tillerson.

He noted that the United States, Canada and European Union have imposed economic sanctions targeting Maduro loyalists seen as profiteers or human rights abusers.

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