When Venezuela descended into political and economic chaos last August, Donald Trump’s public reaction was to float a “military option,” which could have meant an invasion and the removal of the South American country’s president Nicolás Maduro from power.
While the remark, which was made to reporters on August 11, was otherwise ignored as empty, improvised bluster—usual Trump talk—a report released today (July 5) by AP revealed that he was deadly serious. This was because he repeatedly brought up the so-called military option in private as well as in public.
Trump first floated the idea on August 10, at a meeting in the Oval Office with high-level aides, including secretary of state Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H. R. McMaster. When discussing sanctions on Venezuela, he asked why the US couldn’t just invade the country. Trump even provided some historical references, the AP says, like the US-led invasion of Grenada in 1983, under Ronald Reagan, and of Panama in 1989, under George H. W. Bush.
Officials at the meeting tried to explain to the former reality TV host why invasion was not an option—it could backfire and it could reduce US popularity in the region, which was already lower than usual—but Trump insisted.
When he made the remarks public the next day, he was criticized by the Mercosur bloc and US partner Colombia, as well as startled Venezuelan officials. Defense minister Vladimir López called it an act of “extremism” and “madness.”
Later that month, Trump brought the plan up again in a meeting with Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos. And he even floated the option again in September during an encounter with Santos and three other Latin American presidents—countering the explicit advice from aides not to mention the idea. The Latin American leaders all reportedly refused the suggestion.
Besides the obvious legal and ethical questions, an invasion of Venezuela would likely be exploited by some Latin American leaders and could further harm the US reputation in the region. Maduro is already doing that. The Venezuelan president referenced Trump’s remarks in a military ceremony on Wednesday (July 4), and asked Venezuela’s armed forces to be on guard.