Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, on a weeklong trip to Latin America and the Caribbean, focused on strengthening U.S. partnerships with countries whose importance to the United States goes far beyond geographic proximity.
“We share an interwoven history, and importantly, we share democratic values,” said Tillerson. That’s because “we share the same goals as the visionary leaders [who came] before us: to eliminate tyranny and to further the cause of economic and political freedom throughout our hemisphere.”
Here are highlights from the secretary’s February 1–7 trip:
Regional partnerships: looking ahead
To launch his Latin America trip, Tillerson spoke at the University of Texas, where he noted that the U.S. has free trade agreements with 23 countries — including 12 in the Western Hemisphere.
Every year, the United States trades over $1.6 trillion worth of goods and services with Latin America and the Caribbean nations, he said. “But today we have an opportunity to further our economic partnership and the prosperity of the peoples of this hemisphere.”
Tillerson cited the modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement as a key U.S. objective. Other top priorities, he said, include creating more robust energy grids throughout the hemisphere and boosting regional security cooperation.
He also cautioned that China’s emergence as a leading trade partner in the region could impede growth, because Chinese trading practices are often unfair. By contrast, the U.S. approach seeks to benefit all parties, said Tillerson.
“China’s state-led model of development is reminiscent of the past. It doesn’t have to be this hemisphere’s future,” he added. “Our region must be diligent to guard against faraway powers who do not reflect the fundamental values shared in this region.”
On February 2, Tillerson met with Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs Luis Videgaray Caso and Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland in Mexico City.
“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of our economic relationships,” said Tillerson. “Canada and Mexico rank as the first- or second-largest export market for 42 U.S. states and support nearly 3 million U.S. jobs.”
The three diplomats talked about promoting market-based energy development and energy integration throughout the hemisphere. In a theme that ran throughout Tillerson’s trip, they also discussed the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, pledging their cooperation with the Lima Group (an association of 17 regional countries) to assist the Venezuelan people.
“We all urge the Maduro regime to return to free, open, credible, democratic elections and to allow the Venezuelans a voice in their government,” Tillerson said, referring to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
The secretary joined Argentina’s Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie and President Mauricio Macri in Buenos Aires February 4–5 for talks about energy security, trade, regional peacekeeping and safeguarding democracy.
Tillerson praised Argentina’s leadership in standing firm against the abuses of the Maduro regime in Venezuela. “We simply cannot … stand idly by to see a total destruction of democracy in Venezuela,” said Tillerson. “The Venezuelan people deserve better.”
On the economic front, Argentina and the U.S. seek to deepen trade and investment ties, Tillerson added. He said the two countries are committed to jointly fostering and protecting innovation, particularly in science and technology.
Curbing the activities of transnational crime organizations and terrorist financing are other shared concerns, “and we are grateful for the close cooperation and collaboration we have in countering … these illicit activities,” said Tillerson.
Tillerson met with Peru’s Foreign Minister Lucia Cayetana Aljovín Gazzani and with President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski during a February 5–6 visit to Lima. They talked about Peru’s role as host of the upcoming Summit of the Americas as well as bilateral trade, law enforcement cooperation and the crisis in Venezuela.
Since its implementation nine years ago, the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement has been a strong driver of economic growth, said Tillerson. Under the treaty, “two-way trade continues to increase between our two countries, from $9.1 billion in 2009 to $14.3 billion in 2016,” he said. “That’s an almost 60 percent increase.”
He also applauded Peru’s pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, and observed that Peru has chosen an important theme for the April Summit of the Americas: “Democratic Governance Against Corruption.”
With the breakdown of democracy in Venezuela, the summit’s theme “is certainly relevant and timely for all the nations participating,” said Tillerson.
The secretary arrived in Bogotá for February 6 talks with Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón. Tillerson hailed Santos’ efforts to curb drug trafficking, and pointed to a strong U.S.-Colombian partnership against criminal networks that harm citizens of both countries.
Tillerson also highlighted “many, many years of joint law enforcement efforts,” adding that the U.S. government has trained over 13,000 law enforcement personnel in the hemisphere.
He described Colombia as “a key player in the hemisphere’s efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela,” and said the U.S. appreciates Colombia’s solidarity in opposing North Korea’s dangerous and illegal nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Finally, he said, the United States supports Colombia’s accession to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and is committed to helping Colombia implement the technical requirements for OECD membership.
Tillerson’s final stop — on February 7 — brought him to Kingston, where he discussed with Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness their shared vision of a peaceful, prosperous, energy-secure and democratic hemisphere.
Jamaica, said Tillerson, plays a leading role in the Caribbean Basin and is an essential partner in disrupting illegal organizations and fighting corruption. “The U.S. government will continue to support Jamaica’s security forces and criminal justice system,” he said.
The two countries will work together to advance the region’s security and build strong economic partnerships throughout the Caribbean, said Tillerson.