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Tillerson embraces Latin America before visit
04 February 2018, 01:37 | Conrad Doyle
US touts vision for free and prosperous Americas
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) met with Canada's Foreign Relations Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexico's Secretary of Foreign Affairs Luis Videgaray in Mexico City on Friday.
"The United States has mostly lost its opportunity to be the big influencer in Venezuela", said Jorge Guajardo, a former Mexican diplomat now based in Washington.
But Mr. Maduro shrugged off the global pressure last month, when the Constituent Assembly under his control pushed forward the date of the presidential election to April.
The trip also comes as Venezuela readies to hold presidential elections, some time before April 30, in which Maduro will be running for re-election.
Speaking at the University of Texas at Austin ahead of a five-country swing through Latin America and the Caribbean, Tillerson said he did not know whether a military ouster of Maduro would happen, but he hoped change would happen peacefully.
Accusing Washington of seeking to undermine democracy in Latin America and return to the days of "imperialism", Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino lashed out at Mr Tillerson during a broadcast on state television. You have no moral authority. "That's a publicity stunt".
Tillerson, who received a standing ovation at the university, his alma mater, outlined a strategy that focuses on ramping up global pressure on Maduro to agree to credible elections to ease the country's economic and political crisis.
The US responded by slapping Venezuela with sanctions targeting the financial and energy sectors of the oil rich nation.
The Constituent Assembly, convened to rewrite the constitution, took over the opposition-led National Congress.
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.
But Trump's incendiary remarks on Mexico, including the false claim that it is "the most unsafe country in the world", have deteriorated Mexican authorities' trust in their USA counterparts, former deputy assistant defense secretary for Western Hemispheric affairs Rebecca Bill told the Post.
But under current leader Nicolas Maduro, and with world oil prices down, Venezuela faces economic collapse and widespread popular protest - even as USA allies like Colombia emerge from decades of conflict.
The country's socialist party has picked Mr Maduro as their candidate for this year's presidential vote. However, the Pentagon denied that it had been tasked with devising a potential military scenario for Venezuela.
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