President Donald Trump’s offhand remark last week that the United States would keep open a “military option” to deal with the ongoing crisis in Venezuela has united many Latin American leaders, but likely not in the way he intended.
Governments throughout Central and South America were quick to condemn the suggestion that U.S. forces could intervene against the regime of Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro. Instead, they called for continued diplomatic pressure on the Venezuelan government as a means to peacefully induce Maduro to institute democratic reforms, the New York Times reported.
“The possibility of a military intervention shouldn’t even be considered,” Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia, said Sunday during a visit by Vice President Mike Pence. “America is a continent of peace. It is the land of peace.”
Santos’ response echoed remarks by other Latin American leaders, who are acutely aware of how any hint of U.S. intervention can stir up latent anti-American sentiment among their populations. Some of countries that denounced Trump’s comment were themselves invaded by U.S. forces in the 19th and 20th centuries, and a sizable chunk of their citizens still consider the U.S. to be, at best, a regional bully, or at worst, a de facto empire.
Mark Scheider, an adviser at the Americas program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says Trump’s remark was a setback for the fragile regional alliance against Maduro’s increasingly authoritarian government.
“Threatening military action undermines the strongest Latin American consensus in support of democracy that I have seen since the end of the Pinochet regime,” he told the Times.
The government of Peru, which has emerged as one of Latin America’s strongest Maduro critics, issued a statement Saturday rejecting the use of military force in Venezuela. Although Peru had expelled the Venezuelan ambassador just the day before, Peruvian Foreign Minister Ricardo Luna said diplomacy was the only appropriate solution.
“All foreign or domestic threats to resort to force undermine the goal of reinstating democratic governance in Venezuela, as well as the principles enshrined in the UN charter,” he said in a statement provided to Reuters. Mexico and Brazil also issued statements rejecting the possibility of military intervention.
Trump administration critics say the president played into Maduro’s hands when he told reporters, “We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.” Maduro, like his predecessor Hugo Chavez, frequently accuses the U.S. of plotting to overthrow the Venezuelan government in order to take over the country’s immense oil reserves.
At a rally in Caracas on Saturday, Maduro loyalists denounced the Trump administration and accused U.S. officials of conspiring with right-wing opposition groups to topple the regime. Maduro took the accusations a step farther on Monday, asking the newly installed Constituent Assembly to investigate the opposition members for allegedly supporting Trump’s remarks on military force.
Pence, who is currently on a tour of several Latin American countries, has softened the administration’s rhetoric on Venezuela. He told reporters Monday the U.S. will work with regional partners to “achieve by peaceable means” the restoration of democracy. (RELATED: Pence Says Venezuela’s Collapse Would Threaten US National Security)
Though he did not address the possibility of regime change, Pence did add that a failed state in Venezuela would harm U.S. national security.
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