CUCUTA, Colombia – Opposition leader Juan Guaido has called on the international community to consider "all options" to resolve Venezuela's crisis, a dramatic escalation in rhetoric that echoes comments from the Trump administration hinting at potential U.S. military involvement.
Guaido's comments late Saturday came after a tumultuous day that saw President Nicolas Maduro's forces fire tear gas and buckshot on activists trying to deliver humanitarian aid in violent clashes that left two people dead and some 300 injured.
For weeks, the U.S. and regional allies had been amassing emergency food and medical kits on Venezuela's borders in anticipation of carrying out a "humanitarian avalanche" by land and sea to undermine Maduro's rule.
With activists failing to penetrate government blockades and deliver the aid, Guaido announced that he would escalate his appeal to the international community — beginning with a meeting Monday in Colombia's capital with Vice President Mike Pence on the sidelines of an emergency summit of leaders of the so-called Lima Group to discuss Venezuela's crisis.
He said he would urge the international community to keep "all options open" in the fight to restore Venezuela's democracy, using identical language to that of President Donald Trump, who in his public statements has repeatedly refused to rule out force and reportedly even secretly pressed aides as early as 2017 about the possibility of a military incursion.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also stepped up the belligerent rhetoric, saying on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that Maduro's "days are numbered."
A close Guaido ally, Julio Borges, the exiled leader of congress who is Guaido's ambassador to the Lima Group, was even more explicit in urging a military option. "We are going to demand an escalation of diplomatic pressure ... and the use of force against Nicolas Maduro's dictatorship," he said Sunday.
It's a prospect that analysts warn risks fracturing a hard-won coalition of Latin American nations who've come together to pressure Maduro's socialist government. Most Latin American governments, even conservative ones like those in neighboring Colombia and Brazil, are on the record opposing a military solution and would face huge dissent should they back any military action led by the U.S., whose interventions in the region during the Cold War remain an open wound.
"These governments know they would face a huge tide of internal opinion greatly offended by a U.S.-led invasion, for historical and political reasons," said Ivan Briscoe, the Latin America director for the Crisis Group, a Belgium-based think tank.
At the same time, though polls show Venezuelans overwhelmingly want Maduro to resign, almost an equal number reject the possibility of a foreign invasion to resolve the political impasse.
Resting at the foot of the Simon Bolivar bridge as work crews in Colombia began removing debris left by the unrest, Claudia Aguilar said she would support a military invasion but worries it would lead to more bloodshed.
The pregnant mother of three, 29, said she crossed illegally into Colombia on Sunday to buy a bag of rice and pasta for her family after Maduro ordered a partial closure of the border two days earlier. "We're with fear, dear God, of what will happen," she said. "More blood, more deaths. The president of Venezuela does whatever he wants."
In addition to weakening multilateral pressure against Maduro, analysts say the opposition saber-rattling also risks undermining Guaido's goal of peeling off support from the military, the country's crucial powerbroker.
Guaido, 35, has won the backing of more than 50 governments around the world since declaring himself interim president at a rally in January.