CARACAS, VENEZUELA — President Donald Trump's claim that he's not ruling out "military" action in Venezuela prompted a fresh wave of anti-American sentiment by government officials here, many of whom appeared to be leveraging the threat to stoke dark memories of U.S. interventionism in the region.
President Nicolás Maduro's backers were apparently seeking to use the statement as a tool to unite Venezuelans —and the rest of Latin America — against a common enemy to the north.
Félix Seijas Rodriguez, director of the Delphos polling firm, estimated that less than 10 percent of Venezuelans would support military intervention in the country.
"We reject the cowardly, insolent, and vile threats of the President of the United States against the sacred sovereignty of Venezuela," tweeted Delcy Rodríguez, Maduro's former foreign minister. She is now president of the new all-powerful and pro-government Constituent Assembly created by a controversial vote last month that has been decried by opponents and foreign governments as fraudulent.
On national television, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López said: "This is an act of craziness; it's an act of supreme extremism. There's an extremist elite governing the United States."
Trump told journalists Friday: "We are all over the world, and we have troops all over the world in places that are very far away. Venezuela is not very far away, and the people are suffering and they're dying. We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary."
With all branches of Venezuela's government and the armed forces now under his control, Maduro's biggest weakness appears to be the nation's crumbling economy and growing international isolation.
Yet Trump's threats about a "military option" appeared to be dividing U.S. allies in the region, risking the unity of Latin American nations that are seeking to pressure Venezuela's authoritarian government into changing course. Last week, 12 Latin American countries signed a resolution in Peru, condemning the Venezuelan government and backing its suspension from the region's Mercosur trading bloc.
"The government of Chile rejects the threat of a military intervention in Venezuela," tweeted Chile's foreign minister, Heraldo Muñoz. He said that chancellors from many Latin American countries had agreed to reject any military steps.
Bolivian President Evo Morales, a Maduro ally, was quick to pounce on Trump's words. "Now the world knows that those who were against Maduro were only looking for a military intervention from the empire," he tweeted.
Vicente Fox, a leading Trump critic and former president of Mexico, said on Twitter: "Donald, get it together! Your mouth is quicker than your mind: Venezuela needs a way out, but NOT through violence. Take a dive into history, you're wrecking the U.S. don't wreck the world, just because you tweet faster than Maduro or Kim."
After Trump's remarks, Reuters quoted a Defense Department spokesman as saying, "the Pentagon has received no orders" on Venezuela. So far, U.S. steps have involved freezing assets and issuing travel bans on a growing number of senior Venezuela officials, including Maduro. Trump administration officials are also still considering other severe actions, including targeting Venezuela's vital oil industry.