Trump threatens Venezuela with
unspecified 'military option'
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[August 12, 2017]
By James Oliphant
BEDMINSTER, N.J. (Reuters) - U.S. 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
"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 U.S. 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 U.S. military was ready to support
efforts to protect U.S. citizens and America's national interests, but
that insinuations by Caracas of a planned U.S. 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 U.S. 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, criticized Trump's new stance.
"Congress obviously isn't authorizing 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 MUST BE THRILLED'
The president's comments conjured up memories of gunboat diplomacy in
Latin America during the 20th century, when the United States regarded
its "backyard" neighbors to the south as underlings who it could easily
intimidate through conspicuous displays of military power.
[to top of second column]
President Donald Trump (R), trailed by Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson, arrives to speak to reporters after their meeting at
Trump's golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey U.S. August 11, 2017.
The U.S. military has not directly intervened in the region since a
1994-1995 operation that aimed to remove from Haiti a military
government installed after a 1991 coup.
Trump's more aggressive discourse could be an asset to Maduro by
boosting his credibility as a national defender.
"Maduro must be thrilled right now," said Mark Feierstein, who was a
senior aide on Venezuela matters to former U.S. president Barack
Obama. "It's hard to imagine a more damaging thing for Trump to
The United States sanctioned Maduro and other Venezuelan officials
in July after Maduro established a constituent assembly run by his
Socialist Party loyalists and cracked down on opposition figures.
The assembly's election drew international condemnation and critics
have said it removed any remaining checks on Maduro's power.
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
Washington has not placed sanctions on the OPEC member's oil
industry, which supplies America with about 740,000 barrels per day
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 U.S. officials during the country's
The United Nations Security Council was briefed behind closed doors
on Venezuela in May at the request of the United States. At the
time, U.S. 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.
(Reporting by James Oliphant; Additional reporting by Hugh Bronstein
and Girish Gupta in Caracas; Writing by Jason Lange in Washington;
Editing by Andrew Hay and Mary Milliken)
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