Feb. 3 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday urged the Venezuelan government to hold open and democratic elections.
Tillerson's visit to Mexico is the first stop of a Latin America tour that also will include visits to Argentina, Colombia, Peru and Jamaica. During a joint news conference with Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland in Mexico City, Tillerson called for Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro to allow free democratic elections or step aside.
Tillerson specifically said Maduro needs to dissolve the Constituent Assembly, which was created last year and quickly sacked the country's attorney general, who was a critic of Maduro. The polling company that ran the elections last year to fill the legislative body said the results were likely manipulated.
The Constituent Assembly has the power to supersede the National Assembly, which the U.S. considers to be democratically elected.
This week, Venezuela's ruling Socialist Party formally selected Maduro to run for another term in the upcoming presidential election, which the incumbent banned leading opponents from participating in after they boycotted mayoral elections.
"If President Maduro would return to the Venezuelan constitution, restore the duly elected assembly, dismantle the illegitimate constituent assembly, and return to free, fair elections, then he's happy to stay and run in a free and fair election," Tillerson said. "If he wants to step aside and let someone else follow through on that, that's fine, but our view is you must return to the constitution, and that's what we hope Venezuela ultimately will do."
The day before in Austin, Texas, Tillerson said it is a tragedy that Venezuela could be one of the most prosperous countries in the region but instead is of the poorest in the world -- "all the result of man-made collapse."
"Venezuela boasts the world's largest proven oil reserves, but riches are reserved only for the ruling elites. As a consequence, the people suffer," he said. "Venezuelans are starving, looting is common, and the sick do not receive the medical attention they desperately need. Venezuelans are dying of malnutrition and disease."
The Secretary of State said the easiest thing would be for Maduro to just leave, adding that in Venezuela's history, as well as other countries on Latin America, "oftentimes it's military that handles that, that when things are so bad that the military leadership realizes they just -- they can't serve the citizens anymore, they will manage a peaceful transition."
Tillerson added, "If he is not re-elected by the people, so be it. And if the kitchen gets a little too hot for him, I'm sure that he's got some friends over in Cuba that can give him a nice hacienda on the beach, and he can have a nice life over there."
Tillerson's comments did not set well with representatives of more than 50 social and political organizations who protested Tillerson's visit to Mexico, saying his tone in Texas "was not only interfering, it was insulting, abusive and humiliating because he is an emissary of [President Donald] Trump."
"Previously there were direct invasions with Marines; today it is through sanctions, media and economic wars," said Rose Maria Cabrera, who belongs to the Mexican Coordination of Solidarity with Venezuela.