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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Trump ‘won’t rule out’ military option in Venezuela

The US president told reporters that intervention on the ground is one of the possibilities he is looking at

Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, left, has warned in the past of American 'colonialism' against his country
Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, left, has warned in the past of American 'colonialism' against his country

President Donald Trump said on Friday that he’s considering possible military action against Venezuela in response to the country’s descent into political chaos following President Nicolas Maduro’s power grab.

Speaking to reporters at his Bedminster, New Jersey, 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 volunteered, adding, “A military operation and military option is certainly something that we could pursue.”

Trump’s comment marks a serious escalation in rhetoric for the US, 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 upcoming trip to the region later this week.

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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 materialise amid an outcry by US oil companies over the likelihood that a potential ban on petroleum imports from Venezuela — the third-largest supplier to the US — would hurt American jobs and drive up gas costs.

Trump’s comments are sure to focus new attention on Pence’s upcoming six-day tour of the region, which will include stops in Cartagena, Colombia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; and Panama City. Pence is set to arrive in Colombia on Sunday and is expected to meet with each of the countries’ leaders, deliver a major speech on US-Latin American relations and tour the newly-expanded Panama canal.

The trip was already sure to be dominated by discussion of Venezuela, with Pence expected to call on the leaders to continue to pressure the Maduro government and encourage others in the region to do the same.

But Trump’s comments are likely to upend the conversations, with leaders potentially pressing Pence for reassurance that Trump won’t go through with his military threat.

“The vice president’s trip will highlight the divide between the past and present of Latin America,” said Jarrod Agen, a Pence spokesman, in a statement sent before Trump’s comments. “Venezuela represents the past, with the failed path of tyranny and oppression, but Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama represent the future of freedom, opportunity and prosperity.”

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, General HR 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 US. 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.