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Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) Ernesto Samper speaks during the launch of the presidential commission for the truth, justice and reparation of victims in Caracas, April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Marco Bello

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By Cristina Munoz

QUITO (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump's migration policy and trade protectionism are threats to South America and the region must take a stand against them instead of appeasing him, the head of Unasur regional bloc said on Tuesday.

Latin America has warily watched as Trump insisted he would force Mexico to pay for a wall between the United States and Mexico to curb illegal immigration and drug trafficking. He has also threatened to tax Mexican imports and tear up the regional trade deal NAFTA if he cannot renegotiate it to gain more benefits for the United States.

"This is a wall that will separate us Latin Americans from the United States because if you affect Mexico you affect Latin America," Ernesto Samper, a former centrist Colombian president, said in a farewell speech to the South American bloc at Unasur headquarters in Ecuador. His term at the helm of Unasur formally ends on Tuesday.

"Let's be honest, the first announcements and executive orders of the new U.S. administration have to make us think, without hysteria, that we are facing a complex strategic threat," he said.

Samper called on Latin America to seek strategies and not fall into "appeasement syndrome" as they seek to deal with Trump, who has no experience in office.

Last week Peru and Colombia vowed to stand with Mexico, but otherwise the region has been largely quiet about Trump's early days in office.

"We need a prompt, serene, proportional and sovereign reaction and we need it now because tomorrow it could be too late," said Samper.

(Reporting by Cristina Munoz; Additional reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

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