President Donald Trump said during a Sunday morning interview with Margaret Brennan on CBS News’ Face the Nation that sending U.S. troops to Venezuela remains an “option.” He also revealed he has refused a request for a meeting from dictator Nicolas Maduro, who is no longer recognized as the legitimate president of Venezuela by the United States and many other nations.
Trump declined to lay out the precise circumstances that could trigger U.S. military intervention in Venezuela, saying only that the option is still on the table. The White House previously warned Maduro that America will respond if violence or intimidation are directed against U.S. diplomatic personnel, opposition members of the National Assembly, or National Assembly leader Juan Guaido, who is now recognized by the United States and its allies as the interim president of Venezuela.
President Trump said Maduro asked to meet with him “a number of months ago,” but he denied the request because “we’re very far along in the process” of deposing the dictator.
“I would say this,” Trump explained. “I decided at the time, ‘no,’ because so many really horrible things have been happening in Venezuela when you look at that country. That was the wealthiest country of all in that part of the world which is a very important part of the world. And now you look at the poverty and you look at the anguish and you look at the crime and you look at all of the things happening.”
“So, I think the process is playing out – very, very big, tremendous protests,” he concluded.
Protests in Caracas on Saturday were indeed tremendous, accompanied by the defection of top Venezuelan air force commander Gen. Esteban Yanez to Guaido’s camp.
Maduro is relying on complete support from the military to maintain power, but according to a videotaped statement from Yanez, “90 percent of the armed forces” no longer support the embattled dictator. Yanez rejected Maduro’s “dictatorial authority” in his statement.
“To continue order the armed forces to repress the people is to have more dying of hunger and illness,” the general declared.
After Yaez defected, Guaido called for more military leaders to follow his example and “get on the side of the Venezuelan people.”
“We don’t just want you to stop shooting at protesters,” he told the military. “We want you to be part of the reconstruction of Venezuela.”
Maduro responded by denouncing the massive protests on Saturday as part of a U.S.-led coup attempt and called for new elections for the National Assembly, but not the presidency.
“Do you think you are emperor of the world?” Maduro howled at President Trump from a gathering of his supporters in Caracas. “Do you thin Venezuela is going to give up and obey your orders? We will not surrender.”
Austria on Sunday joined with German, France, Spain, and Britain to demand Maduro hold new presidential elections. The European countries said they would join the United States in recognizing Guaido as interim president of Maduro does not comply.