Donald Trump threatened a US military intervention in Venezuela on Friday, a dramatic escalation in his administration’s stance toward the Latin American country which is descending into political chaos.
Trump made the remarks in response to questions from reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Asked what options were available for the US in dealing with Venezuela, which has descended into civil unrest under the leadership of president Nicholás Maduro, Trump responded by explicitly not ruling out military force.
“We have many options for Venezuela and by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option,” he said.
The surprise intervention caps a week of increasingly bellicose rhetoric directed at North Korea.
Venezuela has appeared to slide toward a more volatile stage of unrest in recent days, with anti-government forces looting weapons from the military after the installation of an all-powerful new legislative body.
When a reporter followed up to ask Trump if this “military option” would be US led, the president responded: “We don’t talk about it. A military operation, a military option is certainly something that we could pursue.”
The remarks come as Maduro has convened a constituent assembly, in an election widely denounced by international observers, to amend the country’s constitution to cement his grip on power. Maduro has also forced the country’s chief prosecutor from office, while the United Nations has condemned the government’s use of excessive force against protestors.
Although Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, its economy has collapsed in recent years as the country led first by the late Hugo Chávez and then by his successor, Maduro, has resorted to increasingly authoritarian measures to consolidate power.
Trump’s remarks come in the shadow of a 2002 coup attempt against Chávez that he blamed on the US. The coup was launched after a violent confrontation between marchers in support of a general strike clashed with government forces.