CARACAS/LIMA • After months of attacking Venezuela's unpopular President Nicolas Maduro, Latin America has come out strongly against US threats of military action against the crisis-hit nation.
US President Donald Trump's surprise comments last Friday may bring the beleaguered Mr Maduro some respite in the region, just as Venezuela was on the verge of becoming a pariah over its recent installation of a legislative superbody, widely condemned as a power grab by the ruling Socialists.
Following Mr Trump's assertion that military intervention in Venezuela was an option, Mr Maduro's critics are caught between backing the idea of a foreign invasion of Venezuela and supporting a president they call a dictator.
The sudden escalation of Washington's response to Venezuela's crisis preceded United States vice-president Mike Pence's trip to the region that began yesterday. He was set to visit Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Panama.
Mr Trump did not specify what type of options he had in mind.
Venezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino last Friday disparaged Mr Trump's warning as "craziness" and Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said on Saturday that Venezuela rejected "hostile" threats, calling on Latin America to unite against Washington.
"We want to express gratitude for all the expressions of solidarity and rejection of the use of force from governments around the world, including Latin America," said Mr Arreaza, in a short speech on Saturday. "Some of these countries have recently taken positions absolutely contrary to our sovereignty and independence, but still have rejected the declarations of the US President."
We want to express gratitude for all the expressions of solidarity and rejection of the use of force from governments around the world, including Latin America. Some of these countries have recently taken positions absolutely contrary to our sovereignty and independence, but still have rejected the declarations of the US President.
VENEZUELAN FOREIGN MINISTER JORGE ARREAZA. Peru, one of Mr Maduro's fiercest critics, led the charge in criticising Mr Trump's threat.
It was one of Mr Maduro's fiercest critics, Peru, that led the charge in criticising Mr Trump's threat, saying it was against United Nations principles.
Mexico and Colombia joined in with statements of their own. Regional alliance Mercosur said that it rejected the use of force against Venezuela, despite having indefinitely suspended the country last week amid international condemnation of Mr Maduro's new, all-powerful "constituent Assembly".
After four months of deadly protests against his government, Mr Maduro says the Assembly is Venezuela's only hope of obtaining peace by locking in the socialist policies of his mentor and predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.
The country is increasingly turning to ally Russia for the cash and credit it needs to survive - and offering prized state-owned oil assets in return.Venezuela's state-owned oil firm,
Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), has been secretly negotiating since at least early this year with Russia's biggest state-owned oil company, Rosneft - offering ownership interests in up to nine of Venezuela's most productive petroleum projects, according to a top Venezuelan government official and two industry sources familiar with the talks.
Moscow has substantial leverage in the negotiations: Cash from Russia and Rosneft has been crucial in helping the financially strapped government of Mr Maduro avoid a sovereign debt default or a political coup.
Rosneft has also positioned itself as a middleman in sales of Venezuelan oil to customers worldwide.
Russia's growing control over Venezuelan crude gives it a stronger foothold in energy markets across the Americas. Rosneft now resells about 225,000 barrels a day of Venezuelan oil - about 13 per cent of the nation's total exports, according to PDVSA trade reports.
Venezuela gives Rosneft most of that oil as payment for billions of dollars in cash loans that Mr Maduro's government has already spent.