Trump Threatens Venezuela With Unspecified 'Military Option'

BEDMINSTER, N.J. (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday threatened military intervention in Venezuela, a surprise escalation in Washington's response to Venezuela's political crisis.

"The people are suffering and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary," Trump told reporters.

Previously, the Pentagon said the U.S. military was ready to support efforts to protect U.S. citizens and America's national interests, but that insinuations by Caracas of a planned U.S. invasion were "baseless."

Trump's suggestion of possible military action came in a week when he has repeatedly threatened a military response if North Korea threatens the United States or its allies.

Asked if U.S. forces would lead an operation in Venezuela, Trump declined to provide details. "We don't talk about it but a military operation - a military option - is certainly something that we could pursue," he said.

The president's comments conjured up memories of gunboat diplomacy in Latin America during the 20th century, when the United States regarded its "backyard" neighbors to the south as underlings who it could easily intimidate through conspicuous displays of military power.

The U.S. military has not directly intervened in the region since a 1994-1995 operation that aimed to remove from Haiti a military government installed after a 1991 coup.

Trump's comments could be an asset to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro by boosting his credibility as a national defender.

"Maduro must be thrilled right now," said Mark Feierstein, who was a senior aide on Venezuela matters to former U.S. president Barack Obama. "It's hard to imagine a more damaging thing for Trump to say."