Tillerson visited Jamaica today, to hold talks with Holness, on the possibility of US oil sanctions against Venezuela and the aftermath of such a move.
The US Secretary of State's visit to the island, followed a whirlwing tour of certain Latin American nations, where he pedeled the possibility of US prohibiting the sale of Venezuelan oil in the United States, or for the United States, as well to sell refined products or provide oil to Venezuela.
Prime Minister Holness told a joint news conference with Tillerson that he held “frank, candid dialogue” with the visiting United States Secretary of State, as the two countries sought to deepen their trade and other relations.
“I express the hope that the United States will strengthen its economic partnerships and participation in the region in the interest of our respective countries and peoples,” said Holness who added that during their deliberations “we discussed diaspora matters and the invaluable contribution of Jamaicans resident in the United States”.
He said he had expressed gratitude to Washington for its support to Jamaica over the years “especially in the areas which have assisted in meeting our national development goals.
“In particular we have greatly valued America’s efforts to disrupt trans national crime through continued support to effectively secure Jamaica’s maritime’s space,” he said, adding that agreement had been reached on deepening that cooperation while acknowledging “also that the sharing and exchange of intelligence is critical to the safety and security of our two countries and the wider region”.
Holness said with respect to the economic partnership, the meeting agreed that the transformation of Jamaica’s energy sector “is critical to the achievement of our developmental objectives”.
He said the meeting also explored avenues to broaden US-CARICOM engagement and the economic vulnerability of developing countries including climatic events as well as de-risking and corresponding banking issues.
According to the AFP, many island nations in the region depend to one degree or another on what it called 'cheap oil imports' from Venezuela, a fact that the Caracas government has used as a diplomatic bargaining chip.
It was against this background that Tillerson stopped off in Jamaica on his way home from South America for talks with senior Jamaican officials, including Prime Minister Andrew Holness, on how to manage any crisis.
On the plane flying in to Kingston, Tillerson told reporters that he had agreed with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts to set up a "very small, very focused working group" on oil sanctions.
A US embargo on Venezuela's main export could deal a decisive blow to President Nicolas Maduro's beleaguered regime, but would also hurt US oil companies operating Gulf Coast refineries.
And it would also — to the concern of Venezuela's southern neighbours — hurt ordinary Venezuelans and could be a severe blow to the island economies of the Caribbean, which rely on Venezuelan oil.
Asked whether US President Donald Trump would green-light an oil ban, Tillerson said: "Well, I don't want to say it's a sure thing because I want to do the work."
But he said he had had productive meetings on Venezuela with the heads of state of Mexico, Argentina, Peru and Colombia.
In Kingston, Tillerson said he had come to visit Holness because of Jamaica's leading role as the main US ally in the region and the incoming chairman of the CARICOM group.
Both men told reporters the issue of Venezuelan oil had come up, and Holness said that Jamaica was a supporter of democracy no matter what, and could weather an embargo with US help.
"We, now, hardly import oil from Venezuela," he said.
"With the new dynamics in global trade and energy, and the United States is becoming a net exporter of energy resources, Jamaica can in this new paradigm benefit from that."
Tillerson, a former chief executive of US energy giant ExxonMobil, said that he had also discussed with the Jamaicans how their neighbours, some of whom need more oil, would react.
And he suggested that, while no decisions have been made, the United States would be able to put together means to make up for any shortfall and increase Caribbean energy sufficiency.
"I don't want to get into specifics because we're going to undertake a very quick study to see are there some things that the US could easily do with our rich energy endowment, with the infrastructure that we already have available what could we do to perhaps soften any impact of that," Tillerson said.
"There's great unanimity in the region and certainly in the hemisphere that we all want to see some progress on this situation in Venezuela which only gets worse day by day."
Venezuela's Constituent Assembly, a group controlled by Maduro's government, has called an election for April that could see the president returned despite opposition protests and economic turmoil.
Other powers in the region, speaking under Peruvian leadership in the Lima Group, have called on the government to negotiate with the opposition for a return to constitutional democracy.
But Tillerson and the allies he has met in the past five days have agreed that Maduro has not reached out to his rivals and have vowed to reject the "illegitimate" poll.
Venezuela continues to be the U.S.’s third-largest oil supplier. Approximately 90 percent of Venezuela’s gross domestic product (GDP) comes from crude and its extracts.
- Countries: Jamaica