Protests have rocked the country over the past few months, with demonstrators calling for a new presidential election. (AP: Ariana Cubillos)
US President Donald Trump has threatened a military intervention in Venezuela, a surprise escalation in Washington’s response to the country’s political crisis.
Mr Trump has been blasting Nicolas Maduro’s moves to consolidate power, describing him as a “dictator”, while the White House has raised a series of sanctions against the Venezuelan President.
“The people are suffering and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary,” Mr Trump told reporters.
He added it was “certainly something that we could pursue”.
But the Pentagon said it had received no orders on military action on Venezuela.
“The Pentagon has received no orders,” said Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon, referring questions to the White House.
Just over a week ago, Venezuela inaugurated a new legislative superbody that is expected to rewrite the constitution and give vast powers to Mr Maduro’s ruling Socialist Party, defying protests, worldwide condemnation, and claims that it undermines democratic freedom.
The UN human rights office said on Tuesday that Venezuelan security forces had systematically wielded excessive force to suppress protests, killing dozens, and had arbitrarily detained 5,000 people since April, including 1,000 still in custody.
More than 125 people have died in violence since the opposition began a sustained wave of protests in April.
Mr Maduro has tried to deflect the pressure from Washington, and on Thursday he said he wanted to meet with Mr Trump, perhaps next month at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
“Mr Donald Trump, here is my hand,” the socialist President told delegates at the constitutional assembly, adding that he wants as strong a relationship with the US as he has with Russia.
But the apparent olive branch was undermined in the same speech by an angry rant in which Mr Maduro accused Mr Trump of being behind a failed attack on a Venezuelan military base early last Sunday.