Bedminster, NJ: US President Donald Trump on Friday threatened military intervention in Venezuela, a surprise escalation of Washington’s response to Venezuela’s political crisis that Caracas disparaged as “craziness”.
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 a new legislative body usurped the authority of the opposition-controlled congress.
“The people are suffering and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary,” Trump told reporters in an impromptu question and answer session.
The comments appeared to shock Caracas, with Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino calling the threat “an act of craziness”.
The White House said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro requested a phone call with Trump on Friday, which the White House appeared to spurn, saying in a statement that Trump would gladly speak to Venezuela’s leader when democracy was restored in that country.
Venezuelan authorities have long said US officials were planning an invasion. A former military general told Reuters earlier this year that some anti-aircraft missiles had been placed along the country’s coast for precisely that eventuality.
In Washington, the Pentagon said the US military was ready to support efforts to protect US citizens and America’s national interests, but that insinuations by Caracas of a planned US invasion were “baseless”. Trump’s suggestion of possible military action came in a week when he has repeatedly threatened a military response if North Korea threatens the United States or its allies.
Asked if US forces would lead an operation in Venezuela, Trump declined to provide details. “We don’t talk about it but a military operation — a military option — is certainly something that we could pursue,” he said.
Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticised Trump’s new stance.
“Congress obviously isn’t authorising war in Venezuela,” he said in a statement. “Nicolas Maduro is a horrible human being, but Congress doesn’t vote to spill Nebraskans’ blood based on who the Executive lashes out at today.”
Maduro says only continuing the socialist movement started by his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, can bring peace and prosperity to Venezuela, which is suffering from an economic collapse and widespread hunger.
Venezuela possesses a stockpile of 5,000 Russian-made MANPADS surface-to-air weapons, according to military documents reviewed by Reuters. It has the largest known cache of the weapons in Latin America, posing a concern for US officials during the country’s mounting turmoil.
The United Nations Security Council was briefed behind closed doors on Venezuela in May at the request of the United States. At the time, US Ambassador Nikki Haley said Washington was just trying to raise awareness of the situation and was not seeking any action by the 15-member Security Council.