White House: ‘All options on the table’ in Venezuela
White House officials said Wednesday that “one way or the other,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro will be ousted from office, stressing that all options including military force are on the table.
The comments from senior administration officials came just minutes after President Trump joined the Organization of American States (OAS), Canada, Brazil and countries across the region in recognizing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of the South American nation.
The youthful Mr. Guaido took the oath of office at a massive opposition rally on the streets of Caracas Wednesday, barely a week after Mr. Maduro, a protege of the late anti-U.S. populist Hugo Chavez, was sworn in for a second six-year term in a vote widely denounced as illegitimate.
TheOAStweeted its “congratulations” Wednesday to Mr. Guaido as the “interim president” of Venezuela. “You have our recognition to move forward the country’s return to democracy,” said the organization, which has historically been wary of intervention in members’ internal affairs.
At a pro-government counter-rally in Caracas,powerful socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello said right-wing forces do not represent the majority and that Mr. Maduro would not step down.
Anti-government protesters marched in the streets and waved the national flag as they demanded that President Nicolas Maduro step down from power, the Associated Press reported.Members of the National Guard launched tear gas at protesters in the middle-class neighborhood of El Paraiso on Wednesday.
The White House said diplomacy remains on the table, and they pushed Mr. Maduro to peacefully give up power. If he doesn’t, officials said, the U.S. will consider a new round of targeted economic sanctions or a full-blown oil embargo.
Officials also would not rule out military action against the Maduro regime, particularly if the Venezuelan leader chooses to begin arresting his political foes or taking other authoritarian steps.
“If they choose the route of violence and seek to usurp the constitutional order and democracy, let us be clear that we have a host of options. We will take every single one of those options seriously,” a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call. “The message to Maduro and his cronies would be if that is the route they choose, the message to them would be they have no immediate future, they have no immediate livelihood, and therefore one way or the other they have their days counted.”
The official also said the White House remains “optimistic” that Mr. Maduro will recognize his government is no longer legitimate and will step aside peacefully. If not, the White House said its first option centers on economic pressure.
“Frankly, our sanctions we’ve barely scratched the surface of what actions the United States can take from an economic sanctions front,” the official said. “We are willing and we consider all of those options viable.”
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers had already been eyeing different options to assist Venezuelans and try to deny the Maduro regime tools.
Rep. Mario Diaz Balart and Rep. Donna Shalala, a Republican and Democrat from Florida, have joined together to propose extending temporary humanitarian protections to Venezuelans in the U.S. who fear returning to their home country.
Known as Temporary Protected Status, it would give Venezuelans a reprieve from fear of being deported if they overstay their visas or sneaked into the country, and it would grant them work permits so they can make a living while here. TPS is usually granted for 18 months but is often renewed.
Ms. Shalala, in an interview with The Washington Times Wednesday morning before Mr. Trump’s announcement, said she believes the TPS grant can become law and will certainly get a vote.
“It will pass the House,” she predicted.
She said she’s also looking at legislation that would ban U.S. sales of tear gas and batons to the Maduro regime’s security forces and enhance an existing ban on firearms sales by writing it into permanent law. And another bill she said Congress could take up would bolster nongovernmental organizations working in Venezuela.