President Trump on Friday refused to rule out a U.S. military intervention in Venezuela, where civil strife has turned violent.
“I’m not going to rule out a military option,” he told reporters at his New Jersey golf club.
“Venezuela is not very far away, and the people are suffering and they’re dying,” he said. “We have many options for Venezuela, including a possibile military option if necessary.”
Trump declined to say whether American troops would lead a possible military effort in Venezuela, saying: “We don’t talk about it.”
“But a military operation, a military option is certainly something that we could pursue,” he said.
Tensions in Venezuela have boiled over in recent months, with widespread protests against the increasingly autocratic government of President Nicolas Maduro.
According to a statement by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders late Friday night, Maduro called and requested a call with Trump on Friday, but the White House refused.
“Since the start of this Administration, President Trump has asked that Maduro respect Venezuela’s constitution, hold free and fair elections, release political prisoners, cease all human rights violations, and stop oppressing Venezuela’s great people,” Sanders said in a statement. “The Maduro regime has refused to heed this call, which has been echoed around the region and the world. Instead Maduro has chosen the path of dictatorship.”
“The United States stands with the people of Venezuela in the face of their continued oppression by the Maduro regime,” the statement continued. “President Trump will gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela as soon as democracy is restored in that country.”
The Trump administration imposed fresh sanctions on Maduro in late July after questions about the legitimacy of an election to rewrite the country’s constitution.
The vote was boycotted by the opposition, who accused Maduro of using the vote to consolidate power. Maduro went ahead with the vote, which created a new pro-government assembly that will rewrite the country’s constitution.
Venezuela has also been roiled by shortages of food and medicine, intensifying the unrest.
Ahead of the election last month, the State Department ordered the families of U.S. diplomats out of Venezuela’s capital Caracas amid concerns about “social unrest, violent crime, and pervasive food and medicine shortages.”
Updated 9:50 p.m.