US president Donald Trump has stepped up the rhetoric against Venezuela, saying he had not ruled out military action against the crisis-hit Latin American state.
Speaking to reporters at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, Mr 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,” he volunteered, adding: “A military operation and military option is certainly something that we could pursue.”
Venezuela’s defence minister hit back, calling Mr Trump’s talk of a military intervention an act of “craziness” and “supreme extremism”.
General Vladimir Padrino said: “With this extremist elite that’s in charge in the US, who knows what will happen to the world?”
On Thursday, Mr Trump said he discussed Venezuela along with North Korea and Afghanistan in a security briefing with top national security aides and his vice president Mike Pence.
Mr Pence is travelling to Colombia on Sunday to begin a regional trip that is expected to include discussions on how to deal with the Venezuela’s socialist president Nicolas Maduro for allegedly trampling his country’s constitutional order in a power grab.
Mr Maduro has tried to deflect the pressure from Washington and on Thursday he said he wanted to meet Mr Trump, perhaps next month at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
“Mr Donald Trump, here is my hand,” the president told delegates at the constitutional assembly, adding that he wanted as strong a relationship with the US as he had with Russia.
But late on Friday the White House rejected the request to meet Mr Trump.
A statement by the White House press secretary said the president “will gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela as soon as democracy is restored in that country”.
“Trump has asked that Maduro respect Venezuela’s constitution, hold free and fair elections, release political prisoners, cease all human rights violations, and stop oppressing Venezuela’s great people. … Instead Maduro has chosen the path of dictatorship,” the statement said.
The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on Mr Maduro and more than two dozen other former and current Venezuelan officials.
Reaction in Latin America has been far more subdued, reflecting long-held reluctance by much of the region to encroach on a neighbour’s sovereignty and some lingering ideological affinity for the anti-imperialist revolution started by the late president Hugo Chavez.
Several attempts to punish Venezuela at the Organisation of American States have failed due to a lack of consensus.