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US Vice President Mike Pence heads to South America amid Venezuela unrest

The vice president began his trip in Colombia ahead of visits to Argentina, Chile and Panama. Talks with foreign leaders are likely to be dominated by a political crackdown in Venezuela and drug trafficking into the US.

US Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Colombia on Sunday for a week-long trip in Latin America that is expected to be dominated by the crisis in Venezuela.

Pence met President Juan Manuel Santos at the presidential house on the Caribbean coast in Cartagena. Although the talks between the two were to cover trade, business and investment, Pence was also expected to discuss Santos' concerns after President Donald Trump said he would not rule out a "military option" in Venezuela.

The Colombian Foreign Ministry quickly condemned the threat to its neighbor, saying that "military measures and the use of force" were a completely inappropriate response to clashes between protestors and police in Venezuela.

US imposes sanctions on Maduro administration

Although Venezuela has been embroiled in unrest for months now, things came to a head over a controversial referendum that saw the country's legislature completely redrawn, effectively shutting out opposition to Maduro's socialist rule.

Several anti-government demonstrators have been killed in anti-government protests, and both opposition politicians and outside observers have decried the referendum as the end of democracy in Venezuela.

Following the referendum, the US imposed sanctions against Maduro and a number of current and former top officials.

After Colombia, Pence is scheduled to visit Argentina, Chile and Panama. The vice president is also expected to seek assurances from South American allies to curb the flow of drugs into the US.

In July, the United Nations reported that coca production in Colombia had reached a two-decade high.

es/jm (AP, dpa)

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