U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday threatened military intervention in Venezuela, a surprise escalation in Washington’s response to Venezuela’s political crisis.
Venezuela has appeared to slide toward a more volatile stage of unrest in recent days, with anti-government forces looting weapons from a military base after the installation of an all-powerful new legislative body.
“The people are suffering and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary,” Trump told reporters.
More than 120 people have been killed in Venezuela and thousands arrested in over four months of unrest. The government in Caracas did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Trump’s threat.
Venezuelan authorities have long said U.S. officials were planning an invasion. A former military general told Reuters earlier this year that some anti-aircraft missiles had been placed along the country’s coast for precisely that eventuality.
In Washington, the Pentagon said it had not received any orders on Venezuela from the White House. Trump, asked if U.S. forces would lead any operation in Venezuela, declined to provide details.
“We don’t talk about it but a military operation - a military option - is certainly something that we could pursue,” Trump said.
The United States sanctioned Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and other Venezuelan officials on July 31 after Maduro established a constituent assembly run by his Socialist Party loyalists and cracked down on opposition figures.
Washington has not placed sanctions on the OPEC member’s oil industry, which supplies America with about 740,000 barrels per day of oil.
Venezuela possesses a stockpile of 5,000 Russian-made MANPADS surface-to-air weapons, according to military documents reviewed by Reuters. It is the largest known cache of the weapons in Latin America and a source of concern for U.S. officials amid the country’s mounting turmoil.
The United Nations Security Council was briefed behind closed doors on Venezuela in May at the request of the United States. At the time, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Washington was just trying to raise awareness of the situation and was not seeking any action by the 15-member Security Council.
(Reporting by James Oliphant; Writing by Jason Lange in Washington; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Andrew Hay)