US President Donald Trump (R) greets Colombian President Ivan Duque at the White House on February 13, 2019 (Nicholas Kamm)
Washington (AFP) – President Donald Trump warned Venezuela on Wednesday that “all options” are on the table and demanded that far left leader Nicolas Maduro unblock US aid shipments to the country.
Again stressing that he had not ruled out military options, Trump said he was “sad” about the “turmoil” in the oil-rich Latin American nation.
“You’ll see,” he told reporters at a White House meeting with his Colombian counterpart Ivan Duque, when asked if thousands of US troops could deploy.
Duque, whose country has taken in large numbers of Venezuelan refugees, also lambasted Maduro, saying that “obstructing the access of humanitarian aid is a crime against humanity.”
The US aid, sitting on the Colombian side of the border with Venezuela, has become the latest flashpoint in the US-led push to topple Maduro, whose socialist government is bolstered by the military and backed by Russia and China.
Maduro accuses the United States of using the blocked aid shipments as pretext for an invasion.
However, much of Venezuela’s population is in desperate need, lacking even basics like food and medicine.
“I think he’s making a terrible mistake by not allowing that to happen,” Trump said of Maduro’s refusal to allow in the aid.
“We’re trying to get food to people that are starving. You have people starving in Venezuela.”
– Country in collapse –
Washington has thrown its full weight behind opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognizing him as interim president, demanding that Maduro step aside and imposing sanctions.
Around 50 countries have now recognized Guaido as interim president.
At a huge opposition rally on Tuesday, Guaido vowed that humanitarian aid would enter the country on February 23.
“We have almost 300,000 Venezuelans who will die if the aid doesn’t enter,” he added.
In his latest attempt to erode Maduro’s authority over the military, Guaido said: “Here is a direct order to the armed forces: allow in the humanitarian aid once and for all (and) end the repression.”
Guaido’s team has also met with Brazilian officials to set up a second aid storage center on that border. The new right-wing government of President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, which took over in January after more than a decade of leftist rule there, has joined the growing coalition against Maduro.
But Maduro has so far resisted, portraying himself in the mold of historic Latin American anti-imperialist leaders.
Moscow weighed in on Tuesday, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warning “against all interference in Venezuela’s domestic affairs, including the use of force threatened by Washington.”
There have been growing rumors about possible US preparations for some kind of military involvement ever since Trump’s hawkish national security advisor John Bolton was photographed with a notepad reading “5,000 troops to Colombia?”
However, the White House has been coy about the possibility and on Wednesday, the State Department point man for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, played down the idea.
Military intervention “is not a path that the US government is pursuing,” he said. “I don’t see a reason” for the use of force.
Venezuela has the world’s biggest oil reserves but its once-thriving economy has fallen into ruin under the long-running leftist government. Some 2.3 million people have fled since 2015, their salaries and savings rendered worthless by hyperinflation.
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