- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2019

In a move to increase pressure on socialist President Nicolas Maduro, President Trump declared once again Sunday that U.S. military intervention in Venezuela is still an option.

Mr. Trump made the claim on CBS News Sunday as the popular uprising against Mr. Maduro led by National Assembly leader Juan Guaido — whom the U.S. and a number of regional states consider the country’s rightful “interim president” — appeared to be intensifying by the day.

Saturday saw more major protests in Caracas and other cities, and Venezuela’s military was under growing pressure to choose a side in the power struggle.

In an apparent effort to undercut his rival’s power base, Mr. Maduro on Sunday floated a plan to hold early National Assembly elections, elections that could oust Mr. Guaido from his post. The opposition quickly shot the proposal down.

Mr. Guaido has not ruled out supporting a possible U.S. military intervention in the crisis, while the embattled Mr. Maduro has used the threat of American military action in a bid to rally his supporters.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, the 35-year-old opposition leader explained his party “has been willing to negotiate.”

“We have tried everything. We have voted, we have abstained. We have gone on hunger strikes. We have protested and they have killed us.”

But Mr. Guaido rejected in a letter Friday a mediation offer from Mexico and Uruguay, two of the few states in Latin America who have not joined the campaign to force Mr. Maduro to step down.

“At this historical moment in our country, to be neutral is to be on the side of a regime that has condemned hundreds of thousands of human beings to misery, hunger, exile and even death,” the letter read. 

While the Trump administration has gained a number of new allies in Europe and the Western Hemisphere against the regime, a number of powerful states are sticking with the Maduro government. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday that countries backing Mr. Guaido are fueling the crisis there and blocking chances for a diplomatic resolution.

“They should have contributed to the solution of the problem through dialogue … On the contrary, the event was fueled from the outside. The people of Venezuela are being punished by such approach,” he said.

Russia, China, Cuba and Iran have all expressed support for the regime in Caracas.

The Trump administration has imposed an increasingly harsh set of sanctions on Mr. Maduro’s government. The Treasury Department hit the huge state-owned oil company with sanctions last week that will block or freeze some $7 billion in assets.

Analysts say U.S. direct military action in support of Mr. Guaido remains unlikely. But Mr. Trump has been careful to keep the option available as one more lever to persuade Mr. Maduro to step aside. The U.S. and other governments contend Mr. Maduro’s fraud-ridden election in 2018 was illegitimate and that Mr. Guaido takes charge until new elections can be organized.

Mr. Maduro, a protégé of the late anti-U.S. populist Hugo Chávez, has presided over an economic collapse and humanitarian crisis that have sent millions of Venezuelans fleeing to neighboring countries.

Speaking with CBS’ Margaret Brennan, Mr. Trump explained that he would not negotiate with Mr. Maduro “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.”

U.S. lawmakers weighed in on the potential military move Sunday, with several calling on Mr. Maduro to step aside.

Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican, said on NBC’s Meet the Press that“if Maduro understands that [resigning] is an option, and if he actually believes that’s an option, and world leaders all over are telling him that he’s got to step aside, and you see those protests yesterday, then I think he’ll, hopefully, he’ll step aside.”

Senator Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, praised the Trump administration’s response to action in Venezuela, telling Fox News Sunday, “The administration’s really done an admirable job in response to what’s happening. … We are just reacting to conditions on the ground.”

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