U.S. President Donald Trump's talk of possible military action in Venezuela could be a political life-line for the country's unpopular leader, who has long used the threat of U.S. aggression to justify policies that have shredded the economy.
The U.S. imports around 740,000 barrels per day from the socialist government.
The ruling Socialist Party has for years accused the United States of plotting an invasion as a way of controlling its oil reserves, the world's largest, through a military intervention similar to the Iraq war. But those claims were dismissed by many as an attempt to distract from his government's failures to curb problems such as widespread shortages, spiraling inflation and one of the world's worst homicide rates.
Venezuelan officials had earlier accused the US of planning an invasion.
Trump's statement on possible military intervention came after he had repeatedly threatened North Korea if it threatens the USA, its territories or its allies.
The timing of Trump's remarks could not be worse, coming on the eve of a four-nation Latin America trip by Vice President Mike Pence meant to showcase how Washington and regional partners can work together to promote democracy in the hemisphere.
The president's comments will also complicate the calculus of Latin American leaders, many of whom had been speaking out against Maduro's actions.
For the first time, leaders have started using the D-word - dictatorship - to describe Venezuela's government and have recalled their ambassadors from Caracas in protest.
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I'd say he's being incredibly irresponsible and he's putting us in a situation where you could have an accidental launch.
Any businesses looking to do business with Venezuela will have to go through additional screening, which may hurt the economy further.
Trump's statement about not to "rule out" a military option in Venezuela was a "violation" of United Nations and global laws, Xinhua quoted Arreaza as saying.
"He's doing Maduro a favor by reinforcing the nationalist position that the Gringos want to come and attack Venezuela".
But the swift reaction to Trump's "military" remarks shows there is no appetite in the region for USA troops to get involved.
The bloc's founding members - Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay - opted to indefinitely suspend Venezuela's participation last week, saying that Caracas had failed to include essential Mercosur's trade and human rights norms into domestic legislation.
Experts on the region said the president's comments Friday would undoubtedly make Pence's task more hard when he arrives Sunday in Cartagena, Colombia, on Venezuela's doorstep.
The Pentagon denied the allegation and said the United States military was willing to supports moves to protect American citizens and U.S.
Under the advice of Pence and Florida Republican Sen. "Trump has taken this a big step forward". Maduro to consolidate power in the country. "The president and the vice president have discussed the trip in depth and are totally aligned on the president's message to Venezuela and Latin America overall", said the spokesman, Jarrod Agen.