U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson begins a six-day trip through Latin America Thursday in which he's expected to rally the region's governments in pressing democratic reforms in crisis-ridden Venezuela.
Tillerson's travels will take him to Mexico, Argentina, Peru and Colombia, with a final stop in Jamaica on February 7.
The United States will use "all its political, diplomatic and economic tools to address the situation in Venezuela," a senior State Department official said at a briefing this week on the trip.
Venezuela is in its fifth year of a worsening political and economic crisis. In January, the U.S. Treasury added four current or former Venezuelan senior military officials to its sanctions list, accusing them of corruption and repression that have contributed to critical shortages of food and medicine and the erosion of human rights. The European Union also has imposed sanctions, and the Organization of American States' secretary general, Luis Almagro, has championed democratic reforms for Venezuela.
President Nicolas Maduro, who accuses the United States of leading an international effort to topple his socialist administration, announced in January that he would seek a second six-year term and called for an election by April 30.
Tillerson's first stop will be at the University of Texas at Austin, where he'll speak on the Trump administration's policy priorities in the Western Hemisphere.
Later Thursday, Tillerson heads to Mexico City to meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena-Nieto and other senior officials. The United States and Mexico have had tense relations over President Donald Trump's proposals to curb illegal immigration and have Mexico pay for a reinforced border wall. This week, the United States, Mexico and Canada completed a sixth round of talks on renegotiating the NAFTA trade deal, which Trump often alleges has cost American jobs.
After visiting Buenos Aires and the Argentine mountain resort town of Bariloche, Tillerson is scheduled to head to Lima to meet with Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski on issues including the eighth annual Summit of the Americas. That's set for April 13 and 14 in Lima, Peru.
In Colombia, Tillerson plans to meet with officials including President Juan Manuel Santos, a fierce critic of the Maduro administration. They're expected to discuss not only Venezuela but also "the surge in coca cultivation and cocaine production, economic issues and the growing refugee population" from neighboring Venezuela, the State Department said in a statement.
At the Monday briefing on Tillerson's trip, a State Department official said "the pressure campaign is working" to aid Venezuela.
The Trump administration's objective, the representative said, "is to help the Venezuelan people to deal with this economic crisis, but also to restore the democratic order so that they can be in charge of their future again."