President Trump said Friday that he would not rule out a U.S. “military option” for dealing with ongoing strife in Venezuela, where President Nicolás Maduro has cracked down on nationwide protests against his increasingly dictatorial government with widespread arrests and deaths at the hands of security forces.
“We have troops all over the world in places that are very far away,” Trump told reporters at his Bedminster, N.J., golf club after a meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “Venezuela is not very far away. . . . We have many options, including a possible military option if necessary.”
Asked whether he was talking about a U.S.-led operation, Trump said: “We don’t talk about it. But the military option is certainly something we could pursue.” He did not elaborate.
It has been years — including Haiti in 2004 and Panama in 1989 and 1994 — since the last direct U.S. military interventions in Latin America. Such action would probably cause uproar in the region and would be questionable under international law.
Vice President Pence leaves next week on a trip to South America, where he will visit Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama.
The upheaval in Venezuela has not posed a discernible threat to U.S. security, although some regional experts have warned of an exodus of Venezuelans to this country if the situation worsens. Until now, the United States has advocated a regional response, through the Organization of American States.
Asked last week whether he anticipated outside military intervention in Venezuela, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who also attended the New Jersey meeting with Trump and Tillerson, said: “No, I don’t. I don’t think so. I think what’s really required is for everyone to have one voice about the need to protect the rights and the safety of the Venezuelan people.”
Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said Friday night that the Defense Department has received no orders to deploy anyone in support of operations in Venezuela.
Late last month, despite nationwide strikes and demonstrations, Maduro pushed through a vote on a new constituent assembly that replaced the opposition-majority parliament and increased his power. In response, the Trump administration imposed a new round of sanctions.
Maduro followed by jailing top opposition leaders. The administration has warned of new economic measures against the government, including a possible embargo on oil shipments from Venezuela, the United States’ third largest foreign supplier of oil.
While an embargo would cripple Venezuela’s oil industry — whose near-collapse is part of an economic disaster that has left food, medicine and other necessities in short supply there — it would also probably increase the price of energy in the United States.