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Trump's words rile Venezuelans

Talk of ‘military option’ a belligerent act, government says

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Photographs by AP/ARIANA CUBILLOS

A man injured during a Caracas demonstration against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro is evacuated Saturday.

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela's government on Saturday energetically rejected President Donald Trump's talk of a potential "military option" to resolve the country's political crisis, calling it the most egregious act of belligerence against Venezuela in a century and a threat to stability in the region.

The stinging rebuke came in a statement read by Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza in a meeting with foreign diplomats, including Lee McClenny, the top diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.

Calling Trump the "boss of the empire," Arreaza said Trump's latest comments fit a pattern of aggression against Venezuelan sovereignty and constitute a violation of international law and the U.N. charter.

He said they were particularly menacing given President Nicolas Maduro's renewed call this week for closer ties and request for a meeting with Trump at the U.N. General Assembly next month.

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The White House responded to that request by saying Trump would "gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela as soon as democracy is restored in that country."

Speaking to reporters Friday at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., Trump bemoaned the South American nation's growing humanitarian crisis and declared that all options remain on the table -- including a potential military intervention.

"We have many options for Venezuela and by the way, I'm not going to rule out a military option," Trump said, adding that "a military operation and military option is certainly something that we could pursue."

The comment marked a serious escalation in rhetoric for the United States and threatened to undermine Washington's efforts to rally regional support to isolate Maduro.

Vice President Mike Pence today kicks off a four-nation tour of Latin America with a stop in Colombia, whose government -- the staunchest U.S. ally in South America -- was quick to distance itself from Trump's remarks even while reiterating its concerns about a breakdown of democracy in Venezuela.

In a statement, Colombia's Foreign Ministry condemned "military measures and the use of force" and said all efforts to resolve Venezuela's crisis should be peaceful and respect its sovereignty.

The Trump administration has slapped a series of sanctions against Maduro and more than two dozen current and former officials in response to a crackdown on opposition leaders and the recent election of a pro-government assembly that is to rewrite the country's constitution.

Meeting Saturday, delegates to the constitutional assembly denounced Trump and shouted anti-American slogans. Loyalists warned of another Vietnam if Trump were to send Marines to Venezuela, as the United States last did in the late 19th century during a period of political unrest.

"If the impossible scenario of tarnishing our fatherland were ever to occur, our guns would arrive to New York, Mr. Trump, and we would take the White House," said Nicolas Maduro, the president's son, to loud applause. "Solve your own problems, Donald Trump. You have enough."

Almost from day one since taking office in 2013, the elder Maduro has been warning of U.S. military designs on Venezuela, home to the world's largest oil reserves. But most Venezuelans tended to shrug the accusations off as the diversionary tactics of an unpopular leader.

Now those claims are likely to be validated in the eyes of many government supporters.

The threat of military intervention also would seem to contradict the advice of Trump's top national security adviser. Citing the resentment stirred in Latin America by the long U.S. history of military interventions in the region, Gen. H.R. McMaster said recently that he didn't want to give Maduro any ammunition to blame the "Yankees" for the "tragedy" that has befallen the oil-rich nation.

"You've seen Maduro have some lame attempts to try to do that already," McMaster said in an interview that aired last weekend on MSNBC.

A Section on 08/13/2017

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