However, Zavala, whose studies focus on Latin America and public affairs, said she feels policies such as this may have unintentionally undermined the economies and stability of countries in the region.
Furthermore, in a major shift in USA policy toward Latin America, Tillerson told an audience in Austin, Texas, that the Monroe doctrine - a 19th-century US policy that effectively warned extra-regional powers to stay away from Latin America - is "as important today as it has ever been".
China "is using economic statecraft to pull the region into its orbit", an American official was reported stating. "It doesn't have to be this hemisphere's future".
He said China only seeks to enrich itself, and governments in the region should protect themselves against predatory actors.
As he's done on many issues, Tillerson took a gentler tone, underscoring that the USA has a $14 billion trade surplus in the hemisphere and saying the administration appreciates the "hard work" of Canadian and Mexican negotiators on Nafta.
Russia, he said, "continues to sell arms and military equipment to unfriendly regimes who do not share or respect democratic values".
His trip will include stops in Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Jamaica. 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.
Venezuela was an exception of sorts, coming in for unwelcome attention.
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At the end of Tillerson's visit, William Inboden, executive director of the Clements Center, asked for the secretary's thoughts on what he called Texas' "most threatening border problem" - Oklahoma.
The U.S. and its two neighbors have been hitting speed bumps over trade negotiations.
Discussing Venezuela, the top US diplomat said militaries in Latin America often "handled" transitions from bad governments, but insisted he was not advocating "regime change".
Venezuela's military quickly responded to Tillerson's insinuations saying these "senseless threats against Venezuela demonstrate, once again (that the US government) has become the greatest agent of violence, discrimination, and humiliation in the world".
At a political rally later in the day, Maduro said he would not be bowed by Tillerson's comments.
Tillerson will set foot in a region that has a negative view of the current administration.
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. "Trump's image was poor across the region even before the recent controversy involving the revocation of Temporary Protected Status for hundreds of thousands of Haitian and Salvadoran refugees", Gallup added.