Donald Trump's absence marks the first time a US president has not attended the key regional summit. His VP is expected to push leaders for a stronger response to what the Trump administration is calling the rise of dictatorship in Venezuela.

Summit host Peru played down the decision by US President Donald Trump to skip the Summit of the Americas, saying Mike Pence was an acceptable substitution, on April 12, 2018.
Summit host Peru played down the decision by US President Donald Trump to skip the Summit of the Americas, saying Mike Pence was an acceptable substitution, on April 12, 2018. (AP)

US Vice President Mike Pence plans to hold four one-on-one meetings with Latin American leaders during his weekend trip to Peru for an international summit where he is filling in for US President Donald Trump.

At the Summit of the Americas, Pence on Saturday will meet Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra and President Mauricio Macri of Argentina. 

The White House said on Thursday that the US vice president is also expected to hold a multilateral meeting with several Caribbean leaders.

The White House said Pence will also meet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Saturday amid ongoing discussions over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US, Canada and Mexico.

Pence is expected to use the summit to push for regional partners to further isolate Venezuela while talking up the United States as a trade partner of choice in relation to China, which is increasingly active in developing Latin American relations.

Dimitri O'Donnell has more for TRT World.

Venezuela on the agenda

Trump said he is skipping the summit to focus on the US response to an apparent chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria. The White House said Pence will reassure allies of the US administration's commitment to the region.

It will be Pence's second trip to the region — he travelled to Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Panama last August.

Backed by Washington, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has been barred from this year's summit over his plans to hold a presidential election that the opposition is boycotting and several regional governments consider a sham. 

The US has sanctioned Maduro and dozens of top officials, accusing the country of human rights abuses and sliding into a dictatorship.

Chinese influence in region

Pence is also expected to try to counter Chinese attempts to increase its economic influence in the Americas. 

The vice president's visit comes as the Trump administration is embroiled in an escalating trade fight with China, seeking a renegotiated version of NAFTA and floating the possibility the US could eventually rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Pence will also arrive as Trump has been pushing a tougher line on immigration and ordering the US national guard to its border with Mexico along which Trump is attempting to build a wall.

White House aides said Pence does not plan to meet Mexico's delegation to the summit.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies