During his trip, which will cover Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Jamaica, Tillerson is expected to advance US interests in the region by urging each of the countries to promote trade with Washington, while lecturing them on good governance and the fight against corruption.
Part of that includes renegotiating, or as Tillerson calls it, "modernizing" the North American Free Trade Agreement - or NAFTA.
The four Latin American countries that will visit Tillerson during seven days are those that have a harder position against the Venezuelan government in the region and participate in the Group of Lima focused on restoring Venezuela to democracy.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has warned against China's growing economic presence in Latin America.
"I'm a Texan, a former energy executive and I'm also a rancher".
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"When individuals are living in poverty, a life of crime can look like the only opportunity available to make a living, legal and illegal immigration increases as people look for more opportunity elsewhere, and innocent people are more likely to become victims of drug cartels, human traffickers and corrupt law enforcement", he said.
The University of Texas at Austin will host alumnus and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Thursday for a speech ahead of his five-country trip to Latin America.
Acknowledging that US demand for drugs is driving the cartels' violence and lawlessness, Tillerson said the U.S.is working with other countries to find strategies to attack the organizations' revenue streams, halt the transfer of weapons from the USA and find and prosecute "the middlemen who enable them".
"And importantly, we share democratic values, values that are the core of what we believe, regardless of the color of our passport".
"The most immediate threat to our hemisphere are transnational criminal organizations or TCOs", Tillerson said.
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"New imperial powers" Tillerson also warned that China and Russian Federation are assuming "alarming" roles in Latin America and urged regional powers to work with the U.S. instead.
He said Latin America does not need new imperial powers that seek only to benefit their own people.
The U.S. will continue trying to pressure Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to return his country to the democracy established by its constitution but will not press him to step aside, Tillerson said.
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.
Speaking on a call with reporters earlier this week, a senior State Department official declined to say whether more sanctions were under consideration, adding that the USA would "use all economic, political, and diplomatic tools at our disposal". According to a recent survey by Gallup, only 16 percent of Latin Americans approve of Trump's job and they expect relations to worsen rather than to improve. The continent's major powers reject the regime, but are cautious about piling on more economic misery with Venezuela on the brink of chaos.
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After the speech, Tillerson left for Mexico City to meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and other senior officials.