CARACAS — President Trump said military intervention in Venezuela was “an option” as Western nations boost pressure on socialist President Nicolás Maduro to step down, while the troubled OPEC nation’s ally Russia warned against “destructive meddling.”
The United States, Canada and several Latin American countries have disavowed Maduro over his disputed reelection last year and recognized self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaidó as the country’s rightful leader.
Maduro, who has overseen an economic collapse and the exodus of millions of Venezuelans, still has the powerful backing of Russia, China and Turkey, and the critical support of the military.
In an interview with CBS on Sunday, Trump said U.S. military intervention was under consideration.
“Certainly, it’s something that’s on the — it’s an option,” Trump said, adding that Maduro requested a meeting months ago.
“I’ve turned it down because we’re very far along in the process,” he said in a CBS “Face the Nation” interview. “So, I think the process is playing out.”
The Trump administration last week imposed crippling sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil firm PDVSA, a key source of revenue for the country.
Tens of thousands of people thronged the streets of Venezuelan cities Saturday to protest Maduro’s government.
France and Austria said Sunday they would recognize Guaidó if Maduro did not respond by Sunday night to the European Union’s call for a free and fair presidential election.
Russia, a major creditor of Venezuela’s in recent years and an ideological ally to Maduro, urged restraint.
“The international community’s goal should be to help [Venezuela], without destructive meddling from beyond its borders,” Alexander Shchetinin, head of the Latin America department at Russia’s Foreign Ministry, told Interfax.
In comments on state television, Maduro promised peace for the country without specifically responding to Trump.
“In Venezuela, there will be peace, and we will guarantee this peace with the civil military union,” he said in the company of khaki- and black-clad soldiers who were earlier shown carrying guns and jumping from helicopters into the sea.
Venezuela’s ambassador to Iraq, Jonathan Velasco, became the latest official to recognize opposition leader Guaidó this weekend. Air Force Gen. Francisco Yanez in a video also called on members of the military to defect, but there were no signs the armed forces were turning against Maduro.
Venezuela has as many as 2,000 generals, according to unofficial estimates, many of whom do not command troops and whose defection would not necessarily weaken the ruling socialists.
The police have also sided with Maduro.
A special forces unit called FAES led home raids following unrest associated with opposition protests in January, killing as many as 10 people in a single operation in a hillside slum of Caracas.
Latin American governments, with the help of the United States, are seeking to deliver humanitarian aid to Venezuela, which is suffering medicine shortages, malnutrition and hyperinflation that has led millions to emigrate.
Guaidó was expected to make an announcement Sunday regarding international humanitarian aid that would come through Colombia, Brazil and a Caribbean island and said he was counting on the armed forces to help bring it into Venezuela.
The U.S. Agency for International Development “is working hard to help the people of Venezuela with humanitarian assistance such as these tonnes of Ready-to-Use Supplementary Foods for malnourished children,” USAID Administrator Mark Green tweeted Saturday, posting photos of boxes piled up.
It is unclear whether Maduro’s government, which denies that the country is experiencing a humanitarian crisis, will let any foreign aid through.