BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — President Trump said Friday that he is “not going to rule out a military option” to confront the autocratic government of Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro and the deepening crisis in the South American country.
“They have many options for Venezuela — and, by the way, I'm not going to rule out a military option,” Trump told reporters at his private golf club in New Jersey on Friday evening. "…We're all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away. Venezuela is not very far away, and the people are suffering, and they're dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary."
When asked by a reporter whether this military option would be led by the United States, Trump responded: “We don't talk about it, but a military operation, a military option is certainly something that we could pursue.”
Venezuela is edging toward the economic brink after an internationally condemned election last month created an all-powerful legislature loyal to Maduro. The government is sharply intensifying its crackdown on dissent, issuing arrest warrants for rebellious mayors, targeting unfriendly politicians and menacing average citizens who speak their minds.
Since the July 30 vote, the value of the local currency, the bolívar, has fluctuated more wildly than ever, a significant feat for a country saddled with the world’s highest inflation rate. As a result, street prices for staples such as bread and tomatoes have doubled in less than two weeks. New estimates from the large Venezuelan data firm Ecoanalítica suggest that the economy could shrink 10.4 percent this year, exacerbating a four-year nose dive that some economists already call worse than the United States’ Great Depression.
Potentially more dangerous, analysts say, is the prospect of a sovereign debt crisis that could bring the country to a whole new level of economic pain.
Late Friday, the White House announced that Maduro had requested a phone call with Trump that day and that Trump had turned him down, saying that he will not speak to the leader until "democracy is restored in that country."
"Since the start of this Administration, President 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," the White House said in a statement late Friday night. "The Maduro regime has refused to heed this call, which has been echoed around the region and the world. Instead Maduro has chosen the path of dictatorship."
The president's aggressive approach rattled Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"No. Congress obviously isn't authorizing war in Venezuela," Sasse said in a statement late Friday. "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."
Wagner reported from Washington. Anthony Faiola and Rachelle Krygier in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.