U.S. Runs Low on Options to Oust Maduro

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro attends a gathering in support of his government in Caracas, Venezuela February 7, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo - RC1DEC98AF40

(NYTIMES) – Hours before he pulled American diplomats from Venezuela, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confronted the growing crisis in the country by blaming not only its embattled ruler, but also a broader menace: socialism.

His diagnosis echoed President Trump’s line of attack against potential Democratic rivals in 2020, and there is little question that the far-left ideology of Venezuela’s government shares some responsibility for the dysfunction that has thrown the country into chaos.

But Mr. Pompeo’s broadside against President Nicolás Maduro also obscured the fact that the United States had just about run out of options to achieve its goal in Caracas: a peaceful change of power.

“Nicolás Maduro promised Venezuelans a better life in a socialist paradise,” Mr. Pompeo said on Monday. “And he delivered on the socialism part, which has proved time and time again is a recipe for economic ruin.”

The United States has imposed sanctions to cut off Venezuela’s oil revenues and against banks, including one in Russia. It has canceled the visas of officials in the Maduro government and talked to nations about taking in others who might seek asylum or a safe haven.

And it maintains that “all options are on the table” — even while assuring allies that military intervention, of the kind that the United States has had a long and ugly history of carrying out in Latin America, is not really being considered.

But Mr. Maduro remains, to the surprise of many in the Trump administration.

Now, Mr. Trump faces the same problem that his predecessor, Barack Obama, confronted after saying in 2012 that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria would be severely punished if he used chemical weapons — the dangers of making a tough declaration that the United States is unwilling or unable to enforce.