By JILL COLVIN, Associated Press
PANAMA CITY (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence will tour the newly expanded Panama Canal Thursday as he wraps up a truncated trip to Latin America.
Pence also is expected to meet with Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and deliver a speech before returning to Washington early Friday morning. Pence had originally planned to stay in the Central American country Thursday night but will cut his trip short so he can attend a meeting on South Asia at Camp David.
Pence has spent much of his visit working to assure Latin American allies that the United States remains invested in the region despite President Donald Trump's "America first" rhetoric. He's also urged leaders in the region to intensify pressure on the Venezuelan government, which many fear is on the cusp of dictatorship and civil war.
That mission was complicated by Trump's surprise suggestion right before Pence left that a "military option" might be on the table for Venezuela. Leaders across the region made clear to Pence that they strongly rejected the suggestion.
"Chile will do its utmost to support Venezuela to find a peaceful way out," Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said on Wednesday. "But Chile will not support military interventions, nor coup d'état."
In Panama, a major financial center, Pence is expected to discuss commercial and security ties with the country, including a new trade agreement. Other topics that could come up include drug trafficking, illegal migration and money laundering.
Pence's discussions with Varela will focus on U.S.-Panamanian cooperation to strengthen security, along with opportunities for new trade and investment, according to the Panama Foreign Ministry.