Trump’s words rile Venezue­lans

Talk of ‘mil­i­tary op­tion’ a bel­liger­ent act, gov­ern­ment says

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - JOSHUA GOOD­MAN

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s gov­ern­ment on Sat­ur­day en­er­get­i­cally re­jected Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s talk of a po­ten­tial “mil­i­tary op­tion” to re­solve the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal cri­sis, call­ing it the most egre­gious act of bel­liger­ence against Venezuela in a cen­tury and a threat to sta­bil­ity in the re­gion.

The sting­ing re­buke came in a state­ment read by For­eign Min­is­ter Jorge Ar­reaza in a meet­ing with for­eign diplo­mats, in­clud­ing Lee McClenny, the top diplo­mat at the U.S. Em­bassy in Caracas.

Call­ing Trump the “boss of the em­pire,” Ar­reaza said Trump’s lat­est com­ments fit a pat­tern of ag­gres­sion against Venezue­lan sovereignty and con­sti­tute a vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law and the U.N. char­ter.

He said they were par­tic­u­larly men­ac­ing given Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s re­newed call this week for closer ties and re­quest for a meet­ing with Trump at the U.N. Gen­eral As­sem­bly next month.

The White House re­sponded to that re­quest by say­ing Trump would “gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela as soon as democ­racy is re­stored in that coun­try.”

Speak­ing to re­porters Fri­day at his golf club in Bed­min­ster, N.J., Trump be­moaned the South Amer­i­can na­tion’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 that “a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion and mil­i­tary op­tion is cer­tainly some­thing that we could pur­sue.”

The com­ment marked a se­ri­ous es­ca­la­tion in rhetoric for the United States and threat­ened to un­der­mine Wash­ing­ton’s ef­forts to rally re­gional sup­port to iso­late Maduro.

Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence to­day kicks off a four-na­tion tour of Latin Amer­ica with a stop in Colom­bia, whose gov­ern­ment — the staunch­est U.S. ally in South Amer­ica — was quick to dis­tance it­self from Trump’s re­marks even while re­it­er­at­ing its con­cerns about a break­down of democ­racy in Venezuela.

In a state­ment, Colom­bia’s For­eign Min­istry con­demned “mil­i­tary mea­sures and the use of force” and said all ef­forts to re­solve Venezuela’s cri­sis should be peace­ful and re­spect its sovereignty.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has slapped a se­ries of sanc­tions against Maduro and more than two dozen cur­rent and for­mer of­fi­cials in re­sponse to a crack­down on op­po­si­tion lead­ers and the re­cent elec­tion of a pro-gov­ern­ment as­sem­bly that is to re­write the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion.

Meet­ing Sat­ur­day, del­e­gates to the con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly de­nounced Trump and shouted anti-Amer­i­can slo­gans. Loy­al­ists warned of an­other Viet­nam if Trump were to send Marines to Venezuela, as the United States last did in the late 19th cen­tury dur­ing a pe­riod of po­lit­i­cal un­rest.

“If the im­pos­si­ble sce­nario of tar­nish­ing our fa­ther­land were ever to oc­cur, our guns would ar­rive to New York, Mr. Trump, and we would take the White House,” said Ni­co­las Maduro, the pres­i­dent’s son, to loud ap­plause. “Solve your own prob­lems, Don­ald Trump. You have enough.”

Al­most from day one since tak­ing of­fice in 2013, the elder Maduro has been warn­ing of U.S. mil­i­tary de­signs on Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil re­serves. But most Venezue­lans tended to shrug the ac­cu­sa­tions off as the di­ver­sion­ary tac­tics of an un­pop­u­lar leader.

Now those claims are likely to be val­i­dated in the eyes of many gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers.

The threat of mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion also would seem to con­tra­dict the ad­vice of Trump’s 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 re­cently that 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 week­end on MSNBC.

AP/ARI­ANA CUBILLOS

A man in­jured dur­ing a Caracas demon­stra­tion against Venezuela’s Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro is evac­u­ated Sat­ur­day.

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