WASHINGTON/CARACAS – U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened military intervention in Venezuela, a surprise escalation in Washington’s response to the South American nation’s political crisis.
On Friday, Trump appeared outside his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, where he told reporters that he had “many options” for responding to the Venezuelan crisis.
“The people are suffering and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary,” Trump said.
The Pentagon, however, has reportedly not been directed on any such plans.
Venezuela has appeared to slide toward a more volatile stage of unrest in recent days, with anti-government forces looting weapons from a military base after the installation of an all-powerful new legislative body.
More than 120 people have been killed in Venezuela and thousands arrested in over four months of unrest.
Trump called Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a “dictator” and blamed him for the humanitarian situation in the country.
Trump did not elaborate as to whether American troops would be leading the military option.
“We don’t talk about it,” he said. “But a military operation, a military option, is certainly something we could pursue.”
The U.S. military, however, has not been instructed to provide that option.
Venezuela’s defense minister, Vladimir Padrilo, denounced Trump’s talk of a possible military intervention, labeling it “an act of craziness,” speaking to state TV on Friday evening.
The country’s Communications Minister, Ernesto Villegas also called Trump’s statement “an unprecedented threat to national sovereignty” in a state TV interview.
On Thursday evening, Maduro addressed the 545 members of the new Venezuelan Constituent Assembly and said he wants a relationship with the U.S. Maduro reached out, saying, “Mr. Donald Trump, here is my hand,” the Washington Post reported.
Meanwhile, the White House claimed it had declined a request by Maduro to have a phone call with Trump, accusing the Venezuelan government of not “heeding the call” to stop alleged human rights violations.
The U.S. leader “will gladly speak” with his Venezuelan counterpart “as soon as democracy is restored,” a statement released Friday evening read.
On August 9, the U.S. imposed sanctions on eight Venezuelan officials, including President Nicolas Maduro and the brother of former President Hugo Chavez. The sanctions were imposed due to last month’s Constituent Assembly elections in Venezuela, which the US called “illegitimate.”
Approximately 8 million people voted for 545 candidates who will look to draft a new constitution for the country.
“I am proud of the alleged sanctions… because I do not wag my tail like a lying dog,” Maduro said. The sanctions state that the U.S. will conduct no business with those individuals.
Maduro also accused the opposition of flatly rejecting dialogue and his government’s attempts to bring about reconciliation, saying that its supporters “have become prisoners of strategies of local violence.” The opposition in turn accuses Maduro of violating the Constitution and staging a “coup.”