In a historic first-ever trip to Suriname and Guyana by a U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo met with those nations' leaders to discuss economic development in the wake of recent oil discoveries in both countries.
Pompeo met Thursday with the president of Suriname, Chan Santokhi, and on Friday with the president of Guyana, Irfaan Ali, both of whom are newly elected.
In 2015, Exxon announced it had discovered a large oil reserve off the coast of Guyana, South America's second-poorest nation. BBC has reported that the 5.5 billion barrels' worth of crude could make it the continent's wealthiest nation.
Exxon is already working in Suriname.
During a brief appearance Friday, Ali and Pompeo both said they had not discussed Exxon's deal with Guyana.
"We did not discuss this. But I want to say that we are open to investment," Ali said. "We are open to investors. ... As we have said, prior to the elections, there are issues that we'll have to review."
Pompeo said the negotiations were between Exxon and the Guyanese government, something he called "the American model."
A State Department official told reporters that Pompeo "will highlight through these meetings how U.S. companies throughout the hemisphere invest responsibly and transparently."
"This draws a stark contrast with China, whose predatory loans and vanity projects saddle countries in the Western Hemisphere with unsustainable debts," the official said.
China has been courting both Guyana and Suriname as they seek foreign investment.
Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas and a former State Department official, told AFP that getting a U.S. secretary of state to visit Latin America or the Caribbean was "a heavy lift."
"For him to go to both of these countries is extraordinary and shows that something big is happening."
During a joint press conference Friday, Pompeo and Ali also discussed the need for democracy in Venezuela, reiterating the call for that country's President Nicolas Maduro to step down.
"We know that the Maduro regime has decimated the people of Venezuela and that Maduro himself is an indicted narcotics trafficker. That means he has to leave," the secretary of state said, referencing U.S. drug trafficking charges against Maduro. "The United States and dozens of countries have made clear that Juan Guaido is the duly elected leader of Venezuela. This is the objective - we want democracy and freedom and the rule of law."
From Guyana, Pompeo travels to Brazil later Friday for talks with the Brazilian foreign minister.