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July 22, 2018

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Venezuela expected to dominate Pence’s Latin American trip

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence's visit Latin America comes amid unrest in Venezuela and concern by its neighbors about a possible American military role.

Pence planned to meet with Colombia's president, Juan Manuel Santos, later Sunday at the start of a weeklong trip likely to be dominated by conversations about the crisis in Venezuela. The United States accuses Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of a power grab that has sparked deadly protests and condemnation across the region.

President Donald Trump on Friday said he would not rule out a "military option" in response to Maduro's moves.

That statement drew quick condemnation, including from the Colombian Foreign Ministry, which opposed any "military measures and the use of force," and said efforts to resolve Venezuela's breakdown in democracy should be peaceful and respect its sovereignty.

Pence also will visit Argentina, Chile and Panama, giving speeches and meeting with leaders. He will tour the newly expanded Panama Canal.

In Colombia, Pence was expected to highlight trade, business investment and other ties between the nations, including U.S. support for Bogota's efforts to implement its peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The U.S. probably will seek assurances that Colombia is taking seriously a surging coca production that's been blamed partially on Santos' decision in 2015 to stop using crop-destroying herbicides.

A July report from the United Nations showed that coca production in Colombia had reached levels not seen in two decades, complicating Colombia's efforts to make its vast, lawless countryside more secure.

The Trump administration has been putting pressure on Colombia to curb the flow of drugs into the U.S., and Colombia has stepping up its forced eradication program and increased seizures of cocaine.