US President Donald Trump did not rule out on Friday the possibility of military intervention in Venezuela as the south American country and Peru severed their ties.
“We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary,” Trump told reporters.
“We have troops all over the world in places that are very far away. Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering and they’re dying.”
Washington has slapped sanctions on President Nicolas Maduro and some of his allies, and branded him a “dictator” over his attempts to crush his country’s opposition. Venezuela has in turn accused America of “imperialist aggression.”
But Trump’s latest comments were the first sign that he is mulling military intervention.
“Venezuela is a mess. It is very dangerous mess and a very sad situation,” he added.
He stated Venezuela’s political crisis was among the topics discussed at the talks he hosted at his golf club in New Jersey with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.
But if any US military contingency planning is under way, it must be in its early stages. A Pentagon spokesman, Eric Pahon, refused to elaborate on Trump’s comments, adding: “As of right now, the Pentagon has received no orders.”
The White House said Trump would only agree to speak with Maduro “as soon as democracy is restored in that country,” after the Venezuelan leader requested a phone call with the American president.
Trump’s military warning came two days after his administration imposed new sanctions on Venezuela, targeting members of a loyalist assembly installed last week to bolster what Washington calls Maduro’s “dictatorship.”
General Vladimir Padrino, Venezuela’s defense minister, dismissed the threat as “an act of craziness, an act of supreme extremism.”
“There is an extremist elite governing the United States and honestly I don’t know what’s happening, what is going to happen in the world,” Padrino said.
The Venezuelan government had previously responded to the sanctions — which already targeted Maduro himself — by saying the US was “making a fool of itself in front of the world.”
Venezuela has been gripped by street demonstrations for the past four months. Nearly 130 people have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces.
The protests have lost steam in the past week as security forces have stepped up repression and demonstrators have grown discouraged by the opposition’s failure to bring about change.
Later on Friday, Peru ordered the expulsion of Venezuela’s ambassador over his country’s “break with democratic rule” under Maduro, and Caracas followed hours later with its own tit-for-tat response.
Ambassador Diego Molero has five days to leave Peru, the foreign ministry said. In Venezuela, the government responded by expelling Lima’s top envoy Carlos Rossi, with the same deadline given.
“In light of the measure adopted by the Peruvian government, we find ourselves in the lamentable obligation to expel the charge d’affaires of Peru in Venezuela,” a Venezuelan foreign ministry statement read.
It labeled Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski as an “enemy” of Venezuela, accusing him of “continually interfering” in the country’s internal affairs.
Peru’s decision came days after its congress voted for the Venezuelan envoy to be kicked out.
“The Peruvian government ratifies its firm position of continuing to contribute to the restoration of democracy in Venezuela,” a statement said.
On Tuesday, Peru and 11 other major nations in the Americas, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile and Mexico, slammed Caracas for undermining democracy by establishing a new, all-powerful assembly of Maduro loyalists to override the opposition-controlled legislature.