CARACAS, Venezuela – President Donald Trump’s talk of a “military option” in Venezuela risks alienating Latin American nations that overcame their reluctance to work with the Republican leader and had adopted a common, confrontational approach aimed at isolating President Nicolas Maduro’s embattled government.
Well before Maduro himself responded, governments in Latin America with a long memory of U.S. interventions were quick to express alarm over what sounded to them like saber-rattling. Even Colombia — Washington’s staunchest ally in the region — condemned any “military measures and the use of force” that encroach on Venezuela’s sovereignty.
Maduro has long accused Washington of having military designs on Venezuela and specifically its vast oil reserves, the world’s largest. But those claims were dismissed by many as an attempt to distract from his government’s failures to curb problems such as widespread shortages, spiraling inflation and one of the world’s worst homicide rates.
“For years he’s been saying the U.S. is preparing an invasion, and everyone laughed. But now the claim has been validated,” said Mark Feierstein, who served as President Barack Obama’s top national security adviser on Latin America. “It’s hard to imagine a more damaging thing for Trump to say.”
The timing of Trump’s remarks could not be worse, coming on the eve of a four-nation Latin America trip by Vice President Mike Pence intended to showcase how Washington and regional partners can work together to promote democracy in the hemisphere.
This week in Peru, foreign ministers from 12 Western Hemisphere nations condemned the breakdown of democracy in Venezuela and refused to recognize a new, pro-government assembly created by Maduro that is charged with rewriting the constitution but is seen by many as an illegitimate power grab.