US President Donald Trump has taken a break from his war of words with North Korea to threaten yet another country with the “military option”.
Venezuela has become more unstable since its president Nicolas Maduro won a controversial election giving him new constitutional powers to bring forth what Washington describes as his “dictatorship”.
More than 120 people have been killed and thousands of people, including opposition activists, have been arrested during the past four months.
Mr Trump described the situation in Venezuela as a “very dangerous mess”.
He said: “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.
“We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.”
When asked if the US would lead any operation in Venezuela, Mr Trump said: “We don’t talk about it but a military operation – a military option – is certainly something that we could pursue.”
He does not appear to have been asked which other countries he thought would support the US in such an operation.
Venezuela’s defence minister Vladimir Padrino told state television on Friday that Mr Trump’s threat was “an act of craziness, an act of supreme extremism.”
“With this extremist elite that’s in charge in the US, who knows what will happen to the world?”
The country’s communications minister Ernesto Villegas called the threat “an unprecedented threat to national sovereignty”.
Diplomacy between the two got off to a shaky start, with the White House saying that, although Mr Maduro had requested a phone conversation with Mr Trump, the latter would gladly speak with him “when democracy is restored”.
A spokesman for the US Department of Defense, Eric Pahon, would not comment on Mr Trump’s threat of military action but did say that, “as of right now, the Pentagon has received no orders” regarding Venezuela.
Even if it had, some among Venezuela’s leadership may not be surprised.
Some officials there have long accused the US of planning an invasion and earlier this year, a former military general told Reuters news agency that anti-aircraft missiles were on the country’s coast – just in case.
Venezuela’s 31 million citizens were once among the region’s wealthiest but under Mr Maduro they have suffered from food shortages and hyperinflation.
But, while Venezuela’s economy may be close to basket case status, documents viewed by Reuters show that the country has the largest known arsenal of weapons in Latin America.
Among its collection are 5,000 Russian-made surface to air weapons.
Mr Maduro and some of his comrades were sanctioned by the US at the end of July and he responded by saying the US was “making a fool of itself in front of the world”.
But Venezuela is a major OPEC member and supplies the US with around 740,000 barrels per day – something the US did not slap sanctions on.
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