- 03/12/2021 3:40 AM
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Paramaribo, Suriname | US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo kicked off a South American tour in Suriname on Thursday, pushing the government to pick US over Chinese firms to partner in its development.
"No state-owned operation can beat the quality of the products and services of American private companies," Pompeo said after talks with the country's newly-elected President Chan Santokhi.
The stopover in Suriname comes at the start of a three-day tour that will also take in Colombia and Brazil's Amazonian border, part of his campaign to highlight the economic devastation in Nicolas Maduro's Venezuela.
"This is an exciting time for potential economic growth in Suriname," Pompeo said at a joint press conference with Santokhi in Paramaribo, shortly before flying on to neighboring Guyana.
Both small underdeveloped nations are also being courted by China as they seek foreign investment to bring potentially massive oil wealth ashore.
"The United States is eager to partner to ensure that it's sustainable, that it benefits all people and brings our nations closer together," the US official said.
"We've watched the Chinese Communist Party invest in countries, and it all seems great at the front end and then it all comes falling down when the political costs connected to that becomes clear.
"And we do our level best wherever I travel to make the case for just making sure everybody understands what they're getting into."
The trip is being interpreted in Suriname as a vote of confidence in the Santokhi's new government, elected in the former Dutch colony in July.
China -- also hungry for the region's lumber and minerals -- has invited both nations into its Belt and Road Initiative, its global campaign to build infrastructure and win allies.
Pompeo, who is accompanied on the trip by the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere Michael Kozak, met for about 20 minutes with representatives of American businesses in Suriname.
In Guyana's capital Georgetown, Pompeo will hold talks with members of President Irfaan Ali's new government, finally declared winner in August after months of legal wrangling over the results of an election held in March.
The victory gave Ali's government control of a widely anticipated oil boom in the tiny country, which has a population of just 750,000.
ExxonMobil in 2015 announced it had found one of the world's largest oil reserves in years in the waters off Guyana, with the US giant also heavily involved in Suriname.
© Agence France-Presse