US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives at the opening session of the inaugural US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue at the State Department in Washington, US, January 30, 2018. (Photo via REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first official visit to South America this week will have Venezuela and “US leadership” in the region high on the agenda in the run-up to this year’s G20 in Buenos Aires and Summit of the Americas in Peru.

Tillerson’s travel, starting on February 1st with a visit to Mexico City, will take him to Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Jamaica through February 7. Before traveling to Mexico, Tillerson will give a speech in Texas that will address regional priorities for the United States. After meeting with his counterpart Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, the Secretary of State will arrive in Bariloche on February 3, where he will tour the Nahuel Huapi National Park on horseback.

The political consultations with the Argentine government will start in earnest on Sunday February 4 as Tillerson and Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie will meet along with other cabinet members in Buenos Aires. Regional issues are likely to be on the agenda.

According to the State Department, Tillerson will then meet in Buenos Aires with the heads of US missions in the neighborhood, that is, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia.

Being Super Bowl Sunday, Tillerson has set aside time to watch the game – (maybe at The Bubble’s Super Bowl Viewing Party?) – and on Monday morning he and President Mauricio Macri will meet, wrapping up the Argentine leg of the trip as he will then head to Peru.

Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro (R) gestures next to his wife Cilia Flores as they arrive for an event with supporters in Caracas, Venezuela January 26, 2018. (Photo via Retuers / Miraflores Palace handout).
Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro (R) gestures next to his wife Cilia Flores as they arrive for an event with supporters in Caracas, Venezuela January 26, 2018. (Photo via Reuters / Miraflores Palace handout).


Noting the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Peru in April, along with the G7 in June in Canada and the G20 in Buenos Aires in November, a Senior State Department official speaking to reporters on Monday said that Tillerson’s travel reflected his engagement “with regional partners on this trip to promote a safe, prosperous, energy-secure, and democratic hemisphere. We stand with the region as a steady, enduring partner.

“We’re working hand in hand with partners to disrupt the transnational criminal organizations and trafficking routes that harm our hemisphere’s citizens and drive illegal migration. The United States trades twice as much with this hemisphere as we do with China, and we will continue to enhance our trade and energy relationships to foster prosperity for our region.”

In particular, the official added that “the Secretary will continue to advocate for increased regional attention to the multiple crises in Venezuela. With our partners, we plan to continue to pressure the corrupt Maduro regime to return to democratic order.”

US pressure on Venezuela corresponds closely with the position held by the Macri administration. The president last weekend said that Buenos Aires would not recognize the results of early presidential elections in Venezuela, arguing that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is “running a dictatorship” and “making a mockery of the region and the entire world,” after “generating hope” by allowing the Dominican Republic and other Latin American nations mediate in the crisis. That pressure is further to the rejection by the Lima Group of the decision by Maduro government. Mexico, Argentina, Peru and Colombia are all major players in the Lima Group.

Caracas blames Washington for its ongoing economic crisis and has accused the United States and its regional allies of meddling in its internal affairs. Maduro and Macri have sparred verbally repeatedly since the 2015 presidential Argentine elections.

Speaking on background, State Department officials have expressed confidence that the sanctions issued against Venezuela are working and have insisted that the “State Department, in line with the White House, will use all economic, political, and diplomatic tools at our disposal to address the situation in Venezuela.” Canada and the European Union have also introduced sanctions of their own against Venezuelan officials.