By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence plans to visit volcano victims in Guatemala as part of a three-nation trip at the end of the month aimed at building Latin American ties and pressuring Venezuela, a White House official said on Thursday.
Pence is scheduled to head to Brasilia during the last week of June, followed by a stop in the northern Amazonian city of Manaus, which is grappling with refugees who have fled Venezuela’s economic crisis, the official said.
Pence has led the U.S. diplomatic push to pressure Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the socialist leader who the Trump administration blames for the deep recession and hyperinflation that have caused shortages of food and medicine in the once oil-rich nation.
Washington has stepped up economic sanctions against individuals connected to Maduro and refused to recognize his re-election in a May 20 vote. Both countries have expelled each others’ diplomats.
Trump has considered more sanctions on services related to oil shipments from the OPEC member nation, but so far has not opted to act on those.
During the past year, Pence has visited leaders in Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Panama and Peru. At the end of June, he will also visit Quito, Ecuador, before stopping in Guatemala.
At least 109 people were killed by a massive eruption of Guatemala’s Fuego volcano on June 3 that buried villagers in scalding ash and left nearly 200 missing.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Writing by Eric Walsh; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Bill Berkrot)