This post is also available in: Spanish
No one should be worried about American military action anywhere in Latin America. The notion is risible.
But President Trump’s cavalier remark last week referring to a “possible military option” to deal with the increasingly dictatorial regime led by President Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela has real consequences. Such bluster could adversely affect the United States’ relations with its closest neighbors and make it even more difficult to resolve the hemisphere’s worst crisis.
Although White House officials have said “all options are on the table” when it comes to Venezuela, Mr. Trump’s comment seemed to come out of nowhere. The administration had been pursuing a different approach: It expanded targeted sanctions on top Venezuelan officials — including Mr. Maduro — that began under President Barack Obama. Broader economic sanctions, possibly even cutting off oil imports, are reportedly being reviewed. Predictably, Mr. Trump’s warning set off a uniformly negative reaction both in the United States and across Latin America.
Especially in Latin America, the remark evoked the Cold War era, when the United States sent troops to Central America and the Caribbean (though never to South America, where Venezuela is), often with unhappy results. The last time the United States used military forces in Latin America was in Panama, nearly three decades ago. Mr. Trump seems unaware that the hemisphere has fundamentally changed since then.