brings up a ‘military option’ for Venezuela.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday that he wouldn’t rule out military action against Venezuela in response to political upheaval in the country since President Nicolas Maduro’s power grab.
Speaking to reporters at his Bedminster, N.J., golf club, Trump bemoaned the country’s growing humanitarian crisis and declared that all options remain on the table — including a potential military intervention.
“We have many options for Venezuela, and by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option,” Trump said, adding, “A military operation and military option is certainly something that we could pursue.”
Trump’s comment marks an escalation in rhetoric for the U.S., which has up until now stressed a regional approach that encourages Latin American allies to escalate pressure on the Maduro regime. Hours before Trump’s comments, a senior administration official speaking on condition of anonymity stressed that approach while briefing reporters on Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to the region in the coming days.
Venezuela’s defense minister, an ally of Maduro, called Trump’s talk of a military intervention an act of “craziness” and “supreme extremism.”
Gen. Vladimir Padrino said, “With this extremist elite that’s in charge in the U.S., who knows what will happen to the world?”
The White House later released a statement saying it had rejected a request from Maduro to speak by phone with Trump. The statement said, “Trump will gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela as soon as democracy is restored in that country.”
The Trump administration has slapped a series of sanctions against Maduro and more than two dozen current and former Venezuelan officials in response to a crackdown on opposition leaders and the recent election of a constitutional assembly charged with rewriting the country’s constitution.
But even as the list of targeted individuals has grown longer, promised economic sanctions have yet to materialize amid an outcry by U.S. oil companies over the likelihood that a potential ban on petroleum imports from Venezuela — the third-largest supplier to the U.S. — would hurt U.S. jobs and drive up gas costs.
Trump’s threat of military intervention in Venezuela also seems to contradict the advice of his top national security adviser. Citing the resentment stirred in Latin America by the long U.S. history of military interventions in the region, Gen. H.R. McMaster said he didn’t want to give Maduro any ammunition to blame the “Yankees” for the “tragedy” that has befallen the oil-rich nation.
“You’ve seen Maduro have some lame attempts to try to do that already,” McMaster said in an interview that aired last Saturday on MSNBC.
Rather than send in the Marines, McMaster said it was important for the U.S. and its neighbors to speak with a single voice in defense of Venezuela’s democracy.
“It’s important for us to place responsibility for this catastrophe on Maduro’s shoulders. He is the one who has caused it, and he’s the one who’s perpetuating it,” he said.
Almost since Maduro took office in 2013, he has been warning of U.S. military designs on Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves.
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas called Trump’s remarks “the most grave and insolent threat ever taken against the fatherland of Bolivar,” referring to the nation’s independence hero. He called on all “good-minded” Venezuelans to unite to reject foreign intervention.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Mark Wright said the Defense Department continuously conducts contingency planning for possible military actions all around the world.
“Our job is to be prepared and be able to offer those options to the president,” he said.
Still, a senior U.S. official said the Pentagon is unaware of any coming military action in Venezuela. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.
Separately Friday, Peru expelled Venezuela’s ambassador as part of what it said was a firm commitment “to help restore Venezuela’s democracy.”
The Venezuelan government retaliated by ordering the head of Peru’s embassy in Caracas to leave and called Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski an “enemy” of Venezuela and of Latin American unity.
Peru gave Ambassador Diego Molero, a former Venezuelan defense minister, five days to leave the country. Peru’s administration also refused to accept a diplomatic protest made by Maduro over Peru’s hosting this week of foreign ministers from 17 regional nations who refused to recognize the new constitutional assembly.