Pence to begin Latin America tour as global crises grow

In this Aug. 10, 2017, photo, President Donald Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, speaks to reporters before a security briefing at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. Pence departs Sunday for Latin America, a trip that comes on the heels of yet another provocative statement fromTrump that Pence is sure to have to answer for: this time Trump’s sudden declaration that he would not rule out a “military option” in Venezuela, where president Nicolas Maduro has been consolidating power, plunging the country into chaos. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence will visit Colombia amid escalating tensions with neighboring Venezuela and North Korea.

Pence is set to meet with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Sunday at the start of a weeklong trip to Latin America that is likely to be dominated by conversations about the deepening crisis in Venezuela, where the U.S. accuses President Nicolas Maduro of a power grab that has sparked deadly protests and condemnation across the region.

Trump appeared to complicate the discussions Friday with an unexpected statement that he would not rule out a "military option" in response to the Venezuelan government's attempt to consolidate power.

The statement drew immediate push-back, including from the Colombian Foreign Ministry, which condemned any "military measures and the use of force," and said that efforts to resolve Venezuela's breakdown in democracy should be peaceful and respect its sovereignty.

Pence's trip will also take him to Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; and Panama City, Panama, where he is expected to deliver a number of speeches, meet with the country's leaders and tour the newly expanded Panama Canal.

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

The U.S. will also likely be looking for assurances that Colombia is taking seriously the surging coca production in the country, which has been blamed partially on Santos' decision in 2015 to stop using crop-destroying herbicides.

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

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

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