President Donald Trump said Friday he has been considering the possibility of engaging in military action against Venezuela in response to President Nicolas Maduro's move to a dictatorship.
During a press conference at his New Jersey golf course, he said his administration was concerned about Maduro's tactics during the last four months of ongoing protests.
"Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering and they are dying," Trump said. "We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary."
Maduro tried to talk to Trump by phone Friday night, but Trump declined, according to the White House. Venezuela's defense minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino said Trump's threat was the "craziness" of an "extremist elite."
Trump has been critical of Maduro's decision to allow an all-powerful legislative body to crush the elected members of parliament who oppose him.
The Trump administration issued individual sanctions against Maduro and about two dozen socialist loyalists.
During a speech on Thursday night, Maduro reiterated that the new legislative body with 545 delegates was more powerful than he was. The delegates, who are all socialist loyalists, were elected July 30 in a process that was being investigated for fraud.
There was controversy among Venezuelans in South Florida. Carolina Gonzalez celebrated Trump's statement in Miami-Dade. She left Venezuela a few weeks ago amid the ongoing protests, food and medicine shortages and high crime rate.
"I don't think there is another way to take these people out of power," Gonzalez said.
Ernesto Ackerman of the Independent Venezuelan-American Citizens, an organization with about 830 members, said he hopes the U.S. military partners with allies in South America if Trump decides to intervene.
"Maduro has to be removed," Ackerman said.
Vice President Mike Pence will be visiting Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama. His six-day tour begins Sunday.
"Venezuela represents the past, with the failed path of tyranny and oppression," Jarrod Agen, a spokesman for Pence, said in a statement. "But Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama represent the future of freedom, opportunity and prosperity."