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Regional leaders denounce Trump's Venezuela threat

Miami Herald

August 12. 2017 10:47PM
U.S. President Donald Trump (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

BOGOTA, Colombia - After months of being Latin America's whipping boy, Venezuela got reluctant support from some of its most ardent opponents Saturday, pushing back against President Donald Trump's threat to use military force against the socialist government in Caracas.

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

Colombia's Foreign Ministry 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 from Washington's most loyal ally in the region came the day before Vice President Mike Pence will begin 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 hosted officials from 17 Latin American nations who condemned Venezuela's abuse of power and loss of democracy.

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 Saturday, the bloc was condemning Trump's saber rattling.

Trump said Friday that "we have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary" to confront the government of President Nicolás Maduro.

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.

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

Trump's comments were downplayed by the State and Defense departments, but angered 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."

President Nicolas Maduro's socialist administration has been under siege at home and abroad after more than four months of anti-government protests in which 120 people died. The government's use of excessive force and mass detentions has repulsed all but its staunchest allies in the region.

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.

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