Flanked by his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, Trump told reporters on Friday that military action was one of “many options” being considered to take action against the crisis-stricken South American country.
“This is our neighbour, 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,” Trump said.
“We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.”
Venezuela’s defence minister branded Trump’s threat “an act of craziness,” while the country’s communications minister called it “an unprecedented threat to national sovereignty.”
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Oil-rich Venezuela has been crippled by four months of protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro. Over 120 people have been killed and thousands arrested in the unrest.
The leftist politician’s party further consolidated its powers after a recent election that was broadly boycotted by voters and opposition parties, and slammed as a “step towards dictatorship” by the United States.
The Trump administration reacted by slapping financial sanctions on Maduro, who responded by labelling Trump “the weakest American president in over a century,” according to a tweet from Delcy Rodriguez, head of Venezuela’s constitutional assembly.
But Trump refrained from levelling sanctions at Venezuela’s oil industry, which supplies the U.S. with around 740,000 barrels of oil per day.
Last Sunday, Venezuelan authorities quashed a small rebellion near a military base, killing two people and arresting eight others. Officials accused the men of acting at the behest of U.S.-backed opposition groups.
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Venezuela has a long history of political instability; Maduro’s mentor and predecessor Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013, began his political career with a failed coup attempt in 1992 before winning the presidency six years later.
– With files from Reuters