President Donald Trump says he wouldn't rule out military action against Venezuela in response to the country's descent into political chaos following President Nicolas Maduro's power grab.
Speaking to reporters at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, Trump bemoaned the country's growing humanitarian crisis and declared that all options remain on the table — including a potential military intervention.
"We have many options for Venezuela and by the way, I'm not going to rule out a military option," Trump volunteered, adding, "A military operation and military option is certainly something that we could pursue."
Trump's comment mark a serious escalation in rhetoric for the US, which has up until now stressed a regional approach that encourages Latin American allies to escalate pressure on the Maduro regime.
The Trump administration has slapped a series of sanctions against Maduro and more than two dozen current and former Venezuelan officials in response to a crackdown on opposition leaders and the recent election of a constitutional assembly charged with rewriting the country's constitution.
But even as the list of targeted individuals has grown longer, promised economic sanctions have yet to materialize amid an outcry by US oil companies over the likelihood that a potential ban on petroleum imports from Venezuela — the third-largest supplier to the US — would hurt US jobs and drive up gas costs.
Trump's comments are sure to focus new attention on Pence's upcoming six-day tour of the region, which will include stops in Cartagena, Colombia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; and Panama City.
Pence is set to arrive in Colombia on Sunday and is expected to meet with each of the countries' leaders, deliver a major speech on U.S.-Latin American relations and tour the newly-expanded Panama canal.
The trip was already sure to be dominated by discussion of Venezuela, with Pence expected to call on the leaders to continue to pressure the Maduro government and encourage others in the region to do the same.