Tillerson begins Latin America trip amid US immigration debate

World Today

SECRETARY OF STATE REX TILLERSON CHAMBER COMMERCE U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. on January 29, 2018. (U.S. State Department/Public Domain)

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson began a six-day trip to Latin America. While State Department officials said his discussions with leaders will focus on trade, security and democracy building, America’s immigration debate plus controversial comments by U.S. President Donald Trump will likely also come up.

CGTN’s Franc Contreras reports from Mexico City.

On the one-year anniversary of his job as U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson is embarking on a trip to improve relations with Latin America. His first stop is Mexico, where Tillerson will meet with Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Speaking in Austin, Texas just before departing, Tillerson said economic prosperity in Latin America goes hand-in-hand with regional security. Modernizing the North American Free Trade Agreement, he also said, is a top U.S. priority.

“I understand how important NAFTA is for our economy, and then the continent,” he said. “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.”

After a short stay in Mexico, Tillerson travels to Argentina, followed by Peru, Colombia and Jamaica.

The top U.S. diplomat is expected to use his time in the region to build a coalition that would levy political and economic sanctions against the governments of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, and Raul Castro in Cuba.

“Venezuela and Cuba reminded us that… we must prioritize and promote democratic values,” according to Tillerson. “We must root out corruption in all of its forms. Ineffective and corrupt governments damage countries, the economy suffers, people lose faith in institutions and crime increases.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s language in reference to Mexico and other parts of Latin America stand in stark contrast to Tillerson’s conciliatory tone. Trump insists on building what he calls “a great border wall” that would further separate Mexico from the U.S. In his State of the Union address earlier this week, Trump emphasized his plans for a continued U.S. crackdown on immigrants.

Many Latin Americans read that as a focus on people coming from their region.

Luz Maria de la Mora is an expert on U.S. and Latin American diplomacy. She said it’s time for all sides to see that the U.S. and Latin American nations are permanent neighbors.

“I think this will be a visit in which we’ll be able to express and explain our concerns, to explain our limits, and also to try to maintain the dialogue and the communication which I think is extremely important to avoid unnecessary crisis,” De la Mora said. “If we can set those limits very clearly, I think will be good enough.”

Latin American political observers said the key is avoiding a political crisis with the Trump administration at all costs, and doing everything possible to keep these relationships moving forward.