US President Donald Trump was described as “insane” by several Latin American leaders after he expressed surprise that they did not want a war with Venezuela. Politico reported a former US official who attended the dinner said many of the leaders and gathered officials thought “‘This guy is insane.’”
Governments around the world have criticised President Nicolas Maduro for not allowing a democratic transition to a new administration and skyrocketing prices on basic goods, but none have proffered armed conflict as a solution. There have been some economic measures from the EU and neighbouring countries, but they have done nothing to stem Mr Maduro’s political power.
Ministers from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Panama, however, remember Mr Trump’s proposal for a “military option” to ensure Mr Maduro leaves office. “Rex tells me you don’t want me to use the military option in Venezuela,” Mr Trump said according to one dinner attendee, referring to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who was sitting to his left.
After all, those at the table agreed that it would be an extreme measure, the President said: “Is that right? Are you sure?” “By the time the dinner was over, the leaders were in shock, and not just over the idle talk of armed conflict. No matter how prepared they were, eight months into an American presidency like no other, this was somehow not what they expected,” Politico reported.
The former US official said that “without fail, [the Latin American leaders] just had wide eyes about the entire engagement” and were surprised at Mr Trump’s lack of knowledge about US engagement in the region and how unpredictable he could actually be even though it was eight months into his term at that point.
Mark Feierstein, who was the National Security Council‘s senior director for the Western Hemisphere during Barack Obama‘s administration, said at an Americas Society/Council of Americas event in December that Mr Trump’s National Security Council “has been told that Venezuela is one of [the President’s] top three priorities. Iran and North Korea being the other two.”
Just one month ahead of the September dinner, Mr Trump said there were “many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary” so there was already some anxiousness on the part of the foreign leaders by the time the dinner took place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
Mr Maduro used that to rally support to his side and American diplomats in the region scrambled to allay fears and tensions, according to Business Insider. Fears were also stoked given the President’s comments about North Korea during his official UN speech – calling leader Kim Jong-un “rocket man” and promising “fire and fury” should the country not halt development of its nuclear weapons.
The US is currently imposing fairly harsh sanctions on Venezuela – the US’ third-largest oil supplier – at the moment, including its state-owned oil company PDVSA.