Latin America should not rely on China: Tillerson

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Tillerson did not directly address Trump's threats to pull out of NAFTA if negotiations don't produce an agreement to his liking - statements that have raised anxieties in Mexico City, Tillerson's first stop after leaving Austin - but the secretary of state did acknowledge concerns about the trade deal's future.

"We have advocated that they return to the constitution", Tillerson said when asked during a question-and-answer session whether the removal of Maduro was necessary or the United States would play a role in it.

"I'm a Texan, former energy executive, and I'm also a rancher".

"In the history of Venezuela and South American countries, it is often times that the military is the agent of change when things are so bad and the leadership can no longer serve the people", Tillerson said at the University of Texas in Austin on Thursday.

Tillerson promoted what he called a "holistic" approach to security that tackles economic development as well as drug trafficking and transnational crime.

He said Chinese offers nearly always demand the use of imported Chinese labor, large loans and unsustainable debt and ignore human and property rights.

"And importantly, we share democratic values, values that are the core of what we believe, regardless of the color of our passport".

During the South American part of the trip, Tillerson is expected to rally the region's governments in pressing for democratic reforms in Venezuela.

Tillerson was also due to discuss security and immigration with top Mexican officials, echoing Trump's warning of the need to fight violent drug cartels. As with in the Middle East, he is familiar with numerous main actors: He wrangled with Venezuelan officials shortly after becoming chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp. when the late President Hugo Chavez nationalized the company's assets in the country in 2007. "In their pursuit of money and power, TCOs leave death and destruction in their wake".

The secretary also underscored Russia's presence in Latin America.

"Latin America doesn't need new imperial powers that seek only to benefit their own people", he said.

Noting the United States will continue adding pressure to Venezuelan government, Tillerson insisted, however, that his country would neither maneuver a regime change in the country, nor involve ordinary Venezuelans in the sanctions.

With a laugh, Tillerson said if Maduro left, "I'm sure that he's got some friends over in Cuba that could give him a nice hacienda on the beach".

The United States and other Western governments accuse Maduro's government of violating political and human rights in Venezuela and have imposed economic sanctions. The continent's major powers reject the regime, but are cautious about piling on more economic misery with Venezuela on the brink of chaos.

On Friday he is to meet President Enrique Pena Nieto before heading on to his next engagement at the Andean resort of Bariloche, Argentina, and then to Buenos Aires on Monday.

He will also visit Peru, Argentina, Colombia, and Jamaica on the tour.

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