Maduro tells Venezuelan army 'be on guard' over Trump's 'invasion plan'
President Nicolas Maduro urged his armed forces to be on guard following reports that nearly a year ago Donald Trump, the US president, raised the possibility of invading Venezuela.
"You cannot lower your guard for even a second, because we will defend the greatest right our homeland has had in all of its history," Mr Maduro said at a military ceremony, "which is to live in peace."
He alluded to reports in the press which said that, last August, Mr Trump asked foreign policy advisers about the possibility of invading Venezuela, which the Trump administration has derided as a corrupt, left-wing dictatorship.
Mr Trump raised the idea in August 2017 during a meeting about sanctions the United States has imposed on oil-rich Venezuela, reports quoting a senior administration official said. Mr Trump's advisers said no, as did Latin American leaders with whom Mr Trump also raised the idea.
Bob Baer, a former CIA operative, said the idea of a coup in Venezuela had been "in the air for a couple of years" in intelligence circles, and he suspected the president had "got wind of it".
He said: "I understand [HR]McMaster pushed back, said 'stay out of it'. It's very sensitive in South America - US troops operating there, overthrowing governments, is beyond the pale.
"Then again, Venezuela is a mess, and countries around it are scared. The situation is ripe for a change so we'll see where it goes."
Mr Baer said Venezuelan exiles had been trying to "transmit a message" to the president and "he's listening, clearly".
National security adviser HR McMaster, and others, spent around five minutes answering the president's query.
They told him that invading Venezuela would cause a backlash against the US across South and Central America.
However, Mr Trump still did not dismiss the idea, referring to the invasions of Panama and Grenada in the 1980s as examples of previous US interventions. He is reported to have then raised the idea with several Latin American leaders following the meeting.
Mr Maduro said these reports back up his assertion that the United States is planning a military attack against Venezuela to seize its vast oil reserves.
Mr Maduro said Mr Trump's question to his advisers came after Venezuelan opposition figures visited the White House.
"Is this a coincidence? No, it is not a coincidence," Mr Maduro said.
Meanwhile, more than 50 countries, led by Peru, urged Venezuela yesterday to restore the rule of law and open its doors to humanitarian assistance, as an economic crisis causes shortages of medicine and growing malnutrition.
Venezuelan security forces are suspected of killing hundreds and they enjoy immunity from prosecution, indicating that the rule of law is "virtually absent" in the country, the UN human rights office said in a report last month.
Critics say Mr Maduro has used increasingly authoritarian tactics as the economy spirals deeper into recession and hyperinflation.
The conditions spurred hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans to emigrate in the past year.
"We are concerned by accounts concerning serious human rights violations," Peruvian Ambassador Claudio Julio de la Puente Ribeyro said in the joint statement to the UN Human Rights Council.