US President Donald Trump hinted Wednesday at a military response to Venezuela, vowing to take action against the leftist-ruled country whose economy has gone into a tailspin.
Trump’s threat — immediately denounced by Venezuela as an incitement to a “military uprising” — comes as the United States already piles pressure on President Nicolas Maduro’s inner circle amid an economic crisis that has led two million Venezuelans to emigrate.
“What’s happening in Venezuela is a disgrace,” Trump told reporters in New York where he is attending the annual high-level session of the UN General Assembly.
“I just want to see Venezuela straightened out. I want the people to be safe. We’re going to take care of Venezuela.
“All options are on the table, every one — strong ones and the less than strong ones — and you know what I mean by strong,” he added.
In his address to the General Assembly, Maduro once again accused the United States of having a hand in the August 4 attack using exploding drones during a military parade in Caracas.
The Venezuelan leader declared that “despite the differences,” he “would be willing to reach out my hand” to Trump and meet with him – stressing that he was “a worker, a driver, a man of the people” and “not a magnate.”
Trump earlier said he also was willing to meet Maduro.
Six countries — Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru — called on the International Criminal Court to try Maduro for “crimes against humanity.”
Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie — one of the six foreign ministers to sign a letter to the ICC — said Maduro’s regime was responsible for “arbitrary detentions, assassinations, extrajudicial executions, torture, sexual abuse, rapes, flagrant attacks against due process” — including against minors.
Trump’s comments follow a report earlier this month in The New York Times that officials from the US administration met three times with Venezuelan military officers to discuss plans to oust Maduro.
Earlier in the week, Trump spoke disparagingly about the security situation in Venezuela, saying that he believed Maduro could be toppled “very quickly” by the military.
– Swift response –
Trump’s remarks drew a swift reaction from Venezuela, which since the time of Maduro’s firebrand predecessor Hugo Chavez has lashed out at the United States over its history of interference in Latin America and has frequently justified policies by alleging that Washington was plotting to oust the leftist government.
“Venezuela expresses its strongest rejection of the warmongering and interventionist statements issued by the president of the United States … aimed at promoting a military uprising in the country,” the foreign ministry in Caracas said in a statement.
Caracas said the comments “demonstrated a policy of regime change” promoted by the US government, “with the participation of other Latin American nations.”
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza charged that Trump was targeting his country to drum up support among exiles ahead of tough congressional elections on November 6 and distract from domestic scandals.
“To attack Venezuela or Cuba is to get votes to win Florida and win Congress in the November elections and then to work on re-election,” Arreaza told reporters.
“How sad it is to attack countries for electoral reasons!” he said.
– Economic crisis –
Venezuela’s economy has gone into free-fall over the past several years as the price of oil, the country’s critical export, tumbled and the government printed money to try to maintain spending.
Venezuela’s inflation rate is expected to reach one million percent by the end of the year, pushing food, medicine and other necessities out of reach for many Venezuelans.
The country’s crude oil production has also slipped markedly. Venezuela has tried to make up for the crisis in part by borrowing some $50 billion the past decade from China, repaying debt through oil shipments.
Colombia’s new right-leaning president, Ivan Duque, used his UN speech to call for a tougher approach to change the “dictatorship” of Venezuela as he sought international assistance for neighboring countries to accommodate the migrants.