Trump has ‘mil­i­tary op­tion’ for Venezuela

Houston Chronicle - - FROM THE COVER -

WASHINGTON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Fri­day threat­ened mil­i­tary ac­tion against Venezuela in a com­ment sure to roil the di­vided South Amer­i­can na­tion and to alarm its neigh­bors.

Trump made the state­ment at a news con­fer­ence on the grow­ing con­cerns of mil­i­tary ac­tion in North Korea, im­me­di­ately rais­ing the specter of United States in­ter­ven­ing in two con­flicts si­mul­ta­ne­ously, in­clud­ing one in its own hemi­sphere.

“Venezuela is a mess,” Trump said. “This is our neigh­bor. We’re all over the world, and we have troops all over the world that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away, and the peo­ple are suf­fer­ing. And they’re dy­ing.”

The U.S. has stepped up sanc­tions against Venezue­lan of­fi­cials in re­cent weeks. On Thurs­day, Pres­i­dent Nicolas Maduro said he wanted to talk to Trump to over­come their dif­fer­ences.

“We have many op­tions for Venezuela, in­clud­ing a pos­si­ble mil­i­tary op­tion if nec­es­sary,” Trump said.

They were the strong­est words from Trump since the ad­min­is­tra­tion called Maduro a dic­ta­tor and froze his as­sets af­ter the July 30 vote in Venezuela that will al­low a new con­stituent as­sem­bly to change the Venezue­lan con­sti­tu­tion and to strip cur­rent law­mak­ers of power.

Con­di­tions in Venezuela have gone from bad to worse in re­cent months with a deep­en­ing eco­nomic cri­sis, ris­ing in­fla­tion and an alarm­ing homi­cide rate. In re­cent months, anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions have bro­ken out daily as cit­i­zens take to the streets to protest the lack of even the most ba­sic goods.

Crit­ics said Trump was need­lessly es­ca­lat­ing a sit­u­a­tion that could iso­late the United States in a re­gion that has his­tor­i­cally op­posed heavy-handed mea­sures.

“This is the worst pos­si­ble ap­proach to take with an al­ready volatile sit­u­a­tion in Venezuela,” said Ben Rhodes, who was deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

Among Venezuela-watch­ers in Washington, the re­ac­tion ranged from laugh­ter to dis­be­lief Fri­day evening.

“On the most be­nign level, it’s not an ac­tual threat, so let’s not as­sume that the Marines are load­ing up the air­planes right now,” said Eric Farnsworth, a for­mer State De­part­ment of­fi­cial who is vice pres­i­dent of the Washington-based Coun­cil of the Amer­i­cas.

Some Venezue­lans may see hope in Trump’s re­marks, but Farnsworth said they would largely be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive as they would al­low Maduro and his al­lies to pro­mote the im­age of the U.S. as an im­pe­ri­al­ist bully.

“There’s a whole cot­tage in­dus­try of anti-Amer­i­can lead­ers who will seize on any­thing to por­tray them­selves as vic­tims of the U.S., so this plays into the nar­ra­tive, and you have to be care­ful of that,” he said.

Maduro of­ten ac­cuses the U.S. of plot­ting in­va­sions and coups. Washington has al­ways de­nied that it had any mil­i­tary in­ten­tions against Venezuela.

When Trump was asked if the mil­i­tary op­tions might in­clude U.S. troops on the ground, he de­murred.

“We don’t talk about it,” he said. “But a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion … is cer­tainly some­thing we could pur­sue.”

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