US President Donald Trump said Friday he was considering military options as a response to the escalating crisis in Venezuela, a move the South American country quickly shot down as "craziness."
Washington has slapped sanctions on President Nicolas Maduro and some of his allies, and branded him a "dictator" over his attempts to crush his country's opposition. Venezuela has in turn accused America of "imperialist aggression."
But Trump's latest comments were the first sign that he is mulling military intervention.
"We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary," Trump told reporters. "We have troops all over the world in places that are very far away. Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering and they're dying."
The White House said Trump would only agree to speak with Maduro "as soon as democracy is restored in that country," after the Venezuelan leader requested a phone call with the American president.
Meanwhile Peru on Friday ordered the expulsion of Venezuela's ambassador over his country's "break with democratic rule" under Maduro, and Caracas followed hours later with its own tit-for-tat response.
Trump's military warning came two days after his administration imposed new sanctions on Venezuela, targeting members of a loyalist assembly installed last week to bolster what Washington calls Maduro's "dictatorship."
On Thursday, Maduro declared that Venezuela's new Constituent Assembly holds supreme power over all branches of government, even over his position, and that its work -- ostensibly to rewrite the constitution -- would return "peace" to the country.
But the United States and major Latin American nations allege that Maduro is using the body as a tool to quash dissent, by clamping down on the opposition and the legislature it controls.
The crisis has fueled the street demonstrations that have gripped Venezuela for the past four months. Nearly 130 people have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces.