Pence to take hard line on Venezuela, promote trade


The announcement came as Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Lima Friday for the eighth Summit of the Americas - an event that draws leaders from across the region.

White House officials said the vice president would emphasize the USA as the "partner of choice" in Latin American trade, noting that almost half of the US' trade agreements are based in the Western Hemisphere.

The vice president says Maduro has turned Venezuela into a dictatorship and has brought about "abject misery".

Pence's deputy chief of staff, Jarrod Agen, says Pence called House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi before Trump's speech Friday night.

Trump has over the past few weeks been pushing a tougher line on immigration and seeking stronger protections along the US-Mexican border.

Pence met with Julio Borges, a Venezuelan opposition lawmaker and former speaker of the National Assembly, David Smolansky, former mayor of the city of El Hatillo, Carlos Vecchio, political coordinator of the Popular Will party he co-founded with opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, and Antonio Ledezma, former mayor of Caracas. The U.S. has sharply criticized Maduro's government as undemocratic.

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Ana Quintana, a senior policy analyst on Latin America and the Western Hemisphere for the Heritage Foundation, said Pence would seek to "continue the momentum" of USA policy on Venezuela.

Trump had been scheduled to attend the Americas summit but decided this week to send Pence instead so he could remain in the United States to focus on formulating a USA response to a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria last weekend.

Trump pulled out of the summit to oversee the US response to an apparent chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria and asked Pence to attend in his place.

He vowed that the Trump administration would keep up "economic and diplomatic pressure" on the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The theme of the Summit was proposed precisely because High-Level Corruption has become endemic in Latin America.

Speaking on background, Canadian officials said they expect the meeting to focus on NAFTA and the benefits of free trade for all three North American nations. He'll also discuss the influence of Chinese trade in the region. He visited Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Panama in August.