NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he wanted democracy restored soon in Venezuela and warned that the United States might take additional measures to apply pressure on the oil-producing nation.
At a dinner with Latin American leaders on the fringes of the U.N. General Assembly, Trump said the Venezuelan people were starving and their country was collapsing.
The United States, which has applied financial sanctions against Venezuela, is prepared to take additional steps if the Socialist government of President Nicolás Maduro continues on a path to authoritarian rule, he said.
Calling the situation in Venezuela “completely unacceptable,” Trump he called for a full restoration of democracy and political freedoms, adding: “We want it to happen very soon.”
Trump invited Presidents Michel Temer of Brazil, Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Juan Carlos Varela of Panama and Argentine Vice President Gabriela Michetti to the dinner.
At least 125 people have been killed in four months of protests against the Maduro government, which has resisted calls to bring forward the presidential election and instead set up a pro-Maduro legislative superbody called a Constituent Assembly that has overruled the country’s opposition-led Congress.
Maduro has blamed Venezuela’s financial troubles on an alleged “economic war” by domestic opponents and the United States.
Santos said earlier they would discuss with Trump ways to exert more pressure on the Maduro government to allow a “hopefully peaceful democratic transition.”
“What we all want is for Venezuela to become a democracy again and we are exerting all the pressure we can for that to happen,” Santos said in an interview with Bloomberg News Agency.
While the Trump administration has imposed financial sanctions and Trump has called for tougher action, Latin American leaders have stuck to diplomatic sanctions and ruled out a military intervention, an option Trump has mentioned.
Reporting by Steve Holland and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Peter Cooney