U. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin as part of his tour of the Western Hemisphere. (Photo by The University of Texas at Austin via US State Department).

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson kicked off his Latin America tour of Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Jamaica with a policy speech in Texas yesterday in which he showered the Mauricio Macri administration with praise and made clear Washington’s opposition to Venezuela.

He also mentioned US demand for narcotics produced in Latin America, energy resources in the region and Russia and China in Latin America.

Tillerson is in Mexico today, meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and his counterparts Luis Videgaray, Mexico’s Foreign minister, and Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Foreign minister.

Below are a selection of key passages in Tillerson’s address on US “engagement in the Western Hemisphere.”

  • “The hemisphere has significant potential for greater economic growth and prosperity. We will build upon the solid foundation of economic cooperation with our Latin American and Caribbean partners. Brazil, for instance, is the region’s largest economy and the ninth largest in the world. The United States is Brazil’s second-largest trading partner, with two-way trade at record highs in recent years totaling more than US $95 billion in 2015.”
  • “An important step to strengthen North American economic prosperity and integration is to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.”
  • “I understand how important NAFTA is for our economy and that of the continent. But it should come as no surprise that an agreement put into place 30 years ago, before the advent of the digital age and the digital economy, before China’s rise as the world’s second-largest economy – that NAFTA would need to be modernized.”
  • “Our aim is simple: to strengthen our economy and that of all of North America, to remain the most competitive, economically vibrant region in the world.”
  • “A transition to more market-based economic reforms are not limited to the energy sector. Argentina, under President Macri’s leadership, has made monumental strides in delivering reforms to open the Argentine economy and pursue growth for all Argentinians. Its historically high inflation rate is finally decreasing. GDP is going up, spurred on by investment and soaring consumer confidence.”
  • “… One week after the U.S. Congress passed landmark tax reform policy, Argentina’s legislature took action to overhaul their tax system as well. All of these efforts are making the second-largest economy in South America ripe for more investment and growth. We hope more countries take a similar path – to help the entire hemisphere grow in prosperity.”
  • “Here at home, Americans do not necessarily see the day-to-day violence that is – violence that is so common in other parts of our hemisphere. But U.S. demand for drugs drives this violence and this lawlessness.”
  • “We acknowledge our role as the major market for illicit drug consumption and the need for shared approaches to address these challenges. The opioid epidemic we are facing in this country is a clear, tragic representation of how interconnected our hemisphere truly is. Violence and drugs do not stop at our southern border.”
  • “That is why we continue to employ a coordinated, multilateral approach to diminish the influence of these groups. It is time we rid our hemisphere of the violence and devastation that they promote.”
  • “The corrupt and hostile regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela clings to a false dream and antiquated vision for the region that has already failed its citizens. It does not represent the vision of millions of Venezuelans – or in any way comport with the norms of our Latin American, Canadian, or Caribbean partners.”
  • “Our position has not changed. We urge Venezuela to return to its constitution – to return to free, open, and democratic elections – and to allow the people of Venezuela a voice in their government. We will continue to pressure the regime to return to the democratic process that made Venezuela a great country in the past.”
  • “The United States has imposed sanctions on more than 40 current or former Venezuelan government officials – individuals who support Maduro and his efforts to undermine democracy.”
  • “Over the past year, we have worked with many of our Latin American partners – through the Lima Group and the Organization of American States in particular – to build support for coordinated action to counter the country’s slide into dictatorship. We appreciate the Lima Group of major regional leaders who have met regularly to support the Venezuelan people’s quest to regain their country.”
  • “We want it to be a peaceful change. Peaceful transitions, peaceful regime change is always better than the alternative of violent change. In the history of Venezuela and in fact the history in other Latin American and South American countries, oftentimes it’s the military that handles that, that when things are so bad that the military leadership realizes they just – they can’t serve the citizens anymore, they will manage a peaceful transition. Whether that will be the case here or not, I do not know. Again, our position is Maduro should get back to his constitution and follow it. And then, if he is not re-elected by the people, so be it. And if the kitchen gets a little too hot for him, I’m sure that he’s got some friends over in Cuba that can give him a nice hacienda on the beach, and he can have a nice life over there.”
  • “China’s offer always come at a price – usually in the form of state-led investments, carried out by imported Chinese labor, onerous loans, and unsustainable debt. The China model extracts precious resources to feed its own economy, often with disregard for the laws of the land or human rights.”
  • “Today, China is gaining a foothold in Latin America. It is using economic statecraft to pull the region into its orbit. The question is: At what price?”
  • “China is now the largest trading partner of Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Peru. While this trade has brought benefits, the unfair trading practices used by many Chinese have also harmed these countries’ manufacturing sectors, generating unemployment and lowering wages for workers.”
  • “Latin America does not need new imperial powers that seek only to benefit their own people. China’s state-led model of development is reminiscent of the past. It doesn’t have to be this hemisphere’s future.”
  • “Russia’s growing presence in the region is alarming as well, as it continues to sell arms and military equipment to unfriendly regimes who do not share or respect democratic values.”
  • “Our region must be diligent to guard against faraway powers who do not reflect the fundamental values shared in this region.”