US president intensifies pressure on socialist leader Nicolas Maduro to hand over power to opposition leader Guaido.
President Donald Trump has said deploying the US military to Venezuela is “an option”.
“Well, I don’t want to say that. But certainly, it’s something that’s on the – it’s an option,” Trump said on CBS’s Face the Nation programme on Sunday when asked if he would use the American forces during Venezuela’s crisis.
The US recognised Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president on January 23, and is leading an international campaign to drive Nicolas Maduro from office.
Trump also said Maduro requested a meeting with him “a number of months ago” but he declined it.
“I decided at the time ‘no’ because so many really horrible things have been happening in Venezuela,” he said, citing the “poverty, anguish, and crime” in a country that was once one of the wealthiest in Latin America.
Trump again praised Guaido describing him as “a young and energetic gentleman”.
“If you talk about democracy – it’s really democracy in action… I think the process is playing out – very, very big tremendous protests.”
Four major European nations – Britain, France, Germany and Spain – said they will recognise Guaido unless Maduro calls new presidential elections by midnight on Sunday.
Trump has repeatedly warned “all options are on the table” in Venezuela, as his administration ramps up pressure on Maduro through economic sanctions and appeals to the country’s armed forces to switch allegiances.
‘Point of no return’
The US, Canada and several Latin American countries have disavowed Maduro over his disputed re-election last year and also recognised Guaido as the interim president.
Maduro, however, maintains the powerful backing of Russia, China and Turkey. Russian foreign minister said on Sunday that Western meddling was instigating Venezuela’s troubles and punishing millions of its people.
“Venezuela has reached a point of no return,” political analyst Marco Terugi told Al Jazeera. “We now have a government that was democratically elected, and a parallel government controlled and led by the US.”
Russia’s foreign ministry said on Sunday the international community should focus on helping to solve Venezuela’s economic and social problems and refrain from any “destructive” interference.
“The international community’s goal should be to help without destructive meddling from beyond its borders,” Alexander Shchetinin, head of the ministry’s Latin American department, was cited by Interfax news agency as saying.
Journalist Robert Valencia from Global Voices said global geopolitics could be coming to a head, noting Russia deployed two nuclear-capable bombers to the Latin American nation in December – a move that riled the US.
“I think we’re talking about a new tug-of-war between two current powers in the world – the United States and Russia. We are seeing something that has happened in Syria and now could be moved into Venezuela… This is going to be a new struggle for the balance of power,” he said.
At a crossroad
Tens of thousands of people thronged the streets of various Venezuelan cities on Saturday to protest his government and a senior air force general recognised Guaido.
The Trump administration last week issued crippling sanctions that are likely to further weaken the country’s struggling oil industry – by far Venezuela’s greatest source of income.
While that could weaken Maduro, it risks also exacerbating Venezuela’s economic collapse.
Venezuela is suffering medicine shortages, malnutrition and hyperinflation that has prompted millions to emigrate in recent years.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA