PANAMA CITY (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence toured the newly expanded Panama Canal Thursday as he wrapped up a truncated trip to Latin America.
Pence met with Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela before departing for Washington Thursday evening. Pence had originally planned to stay in the Central American country overnight but is cutting his trip short so he can attend a weekend 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 has 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 Wednesday. "But Chile will not support military interventions, nor coup d'état."
In Panama, a major financial center, Pence and Varela said they discussed commercial and security ties, as well as drug trafficking, illegal migration and money laundering.
In remarks after their meeting, Pence said Panama was an "invaluable" U.S. partner, and thanked the country for its efforts to seize illegal drugs and partner on border security.