Regional leaders denounce Trump’s Venezuela military threat

Anti-government demonstrators wave a Venezuelan flag during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017.
Anti-government demonstrators wave a Venezuelan flag during a protest against Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. AP

Venezuela might owe Donald Trump a thank-you card.

After months of being the region’s whipping boy, Venezuela on Saturday saw some of its most ardent foes (reluctantly) coming to its defense — pushing back against Trump’s threat to use military force to deal with the socialist administration in Caracas.

Colombia, Peru and the Mercosur bloc of nations — three of Venezuela’s biggest and perhaps most effective detractors in the region — were just some of those who issued statements denouncing Trump’s bellicose rhetoric.

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Colombia’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday issued a statement saying it rejected the use of “military measures and the use of force” when dealing with Venezuela.

“Despite the current difficulties of reaching a peaceful and negotiated solution, we still believe that is the right path to find long-term solutions for the people of Venezuela,” the ministry said.

The rebuke, albeit mild, from Washington’s most loyal ally in the region came the day before Vice President Mike Pence will be kicking off a Central and South American tour here.

Also Saturday, Peru said “any attempted use of force, whether it’s external or internal, undermines the objective of restoring democracy … to Venezuela.”

Just a few days earlier, Peru had hosted officials from 17 Latin American nations who condemned Venezuela’s abuse of power and loss of democracy.

Venezuelan police set fire to motorbikes belonging to the press, after police were targeted with an explosive device on Sunday, July 30, 2017. A group of around 50 journalists was reporting on the clashes between the national guards and anti-government protesters when the pro-government forces targeted their motorbikes at a corner of the Plaza Francia de Altamira, in the capital.

And a week ago, the Mercosur bloc of nations — led by Argentina, Brazil and Chile — indefinitely suspended Venezuela from the group, urging the country to release political prisoners and return to democracy.

But on Saturday the bloc was condemning Washington’s saber rattling.

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The reactions come after Trump told reporters at his New Jersey golf club on Friday that “we have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.”

Trump’s comments have been downplayed by the State Department and Pentagon, but have drawn the ire of a region that has always been sensitive to Washington meddling and CIA-backed coups.

“It’s hard to imagine a worse time for Trump to make this threat,” David Smilde, a senior fellow with the Washington Office on Latin America, said in a statement. “Venezuela’s government has routinely used the specter of U.S. aggression as a justification for actions that violate democratic principles, and this remark will only reinforce their ant-imperialist rhetoric.”

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter that “no one has helped Maduro as much as Trump [with] this nonsense he said [Friday].”

Maduro’s socialist administration has been under siege at home and abroad as more than four months of anti-government protests have left more than 120 dead. And the regime’s use of excessive force and mass detentions had repulsed all but its staunchest allies in the region.

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On Saturday, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza called on the nation and the region to rally to the country’s defense, and said Trump’s statements were “the most aggressive imperial act of the United States” in more than a century.

“The terrible threats of President Donald Trump are trying to drag Latin America and the Caribbean into a conflict that could permanently alter the stability, peace and security in our region,” he said.

On Aug. 4, Venezuela raised alarms in the region when it installed a National Constituent Assembly, a body with all-encompassing powers that will rewrite the constitution.

Police and protesters clashed in the streets of Caracas on Saturday, July 29, 2017, ahead of Sunday's controversial vote.

On Saturday, demonstrators took to the streets once again to protest the new entity, which they see as a power grab, and the arrest of several opposition mayors.

Tensions are running high in Venezuela. On Friday, the government announced that it had captured former National Guard Capt. Juan Carlos Caguaripano, who is accused of leading an Aug. 6 raid on a military base. Also this week, ruling party hard-liner Diosdado Cabello announced that a Venezuelan employee of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas had been detained for asking questions about Cabello’s whereabouts.

The U.S. State Department would not confirm that, el Nuevo Herald reported.

Maduro seemed to be enjoying his twist of fate, retweeting messages from longtime critics, including former Mexican President Vicente Fox, who routinely calls Maduro a dictator and tyrant.

“Only an imbecile would wage war on his neighbor,” Fox told Trump in a tweet. “Violence [is] not the answer.”

Follow Jim Wyss on Twitter @jimwyss