Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has left for a week-long tour of Latin America, where he will seek to promote the Trump administration’s foreign policy agenda and shore up U.S. alliances in the region.
Tillerson will visit Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, and Jamaica, where discussions will reportedly focus around the worsening humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, defending the administration’s policy of rolling back Barack Obama’s ‘Cuban Thaw,’ and urging them to curtail their dependence on China.
Each visit will also focus on country-specific concerns. In Mexico, Tillerson will have to defend America’s new policy of aggressively curbing illegal immigration and plan to construct a wall along the southern border, as well as Trump’s plans to renegotiate or cancel the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which could have serious implications for the Mexican economy.
Tillerson is expected to receive a warm welcome in Bariloche, Argentina, from the right-leaning President Mauricio Macri, who had business dealings with Trump dating back to the 1980s. Trump has angered some officials in Buenos Aires after raising tariffs on biodiesel, one of Argentina’s largest export markets.
In Colombia, Tillerson is set to raise concerns over a resurgence of drug production from Marxist guerrilla organization FARC, who last year signed a generous peace accord with the Colombian government that allowed them to relaunch as a political party. U.S. officials claim they have not complied with its provisions, raising concerns that former FARC members and other terrorist groups will be emboldened by the deal. Just this week, a separate Marxist terrorist organization, the National Liberation Army (ELN), killed five and injured dozens after bombing a police station in Barranquilla.
Discussions in Bogotá are likely to have the greatest emphasis on tackling the Venezuela crisis, which is beginning to have a profound impact on Colombia through the surging levels of immigration across their eastern border and the need to provide humanitarian aid.
Colombian leader Juan Manuel Santos is one of many regional leaders supporting America’s efforts to pressure Nicolás Maduro’s socialist regime, primarily through economic sanctions, as the human rights situation continues to worsen and the regime cracks down on political dissidents.
With all countries, Tillerson is also expected to warn of the implications of their increased dependence on China through loans and large-scale investment. Last week, China invited Latin American and Caribbean countries to join its “One Belt, One Road” initiative aimed at increasing Chinese involvement in the region.
“The secretary is engaging with regional partners on this trip to promote a safe, prosperous, energy-secure and democratic hemisphere,” a senior State Department told reporters on condition of anonymity. “We stand with the region as a steady, enduring partner.”