The head of the Organisation of American States (OAS) has said "military intervention" to "overthrow" Nicolás Maduro's Venezuelan government must not be ruled out for the country mired in economic and humanitarian crisis.
"With regards to a military intervention aimed at overthrowing the regime of Nicolás Maduro, I think we should not exclude any option," OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro told journalists in the Colombian city of Cúcuta, near the border with Venezuela.
His comments follow a report in The New York Times last Saturday that officials from US President Donald Trump's administration met secretly with Venezuelan military officers to discuss plans to oust Maduro, but eventually decided not to help.
Almagro – a fierce critic of the Chavista regime who has been dubbed an "interventionist" by Maduro – said Caracas was committing "crimes against humanity" against its citizens.
"Suffering of the people, in the induced exodus that it is driving, puts diplomatic actions in first place, but we should not rule out any action," he said.
The OAS leader on Friday ended a three-day visit to Colombia concerning the wave of migrants fleeing there from oil-rich but impoverished Venezuela.
Caracas responded angrily to the comments, accusing the OAS official of "promoting military intervention" in the oil-rich countr.
"Venezuela will denounce Almagro to the UN and other international bodies ... for promoting military intervention in our country and threatening peace in Latin America and the Caribbean," Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
Venezuela is mired in a deep economic crisis that has triggered the departure of 1.6 million Venezuelans since 2015, according to the United Nations. Colombia has received more than one million of the migrants.
Rodríguez has said her government complained to UN Secretary-General Antônio Guterres that "individual officials" have been portraying "a normal migratory flow as a humanitarian crisis to justify an intervention."
Almagro urged the international community to "not permit a dictatorship in Venezuela" because it provokes regional instability in humanitarian and security terms, alongside the effects on Venezuelans.
The Venezuelan people "have paid a more than high price to recover their freedom, to recover their democracy, and have not yet recovered it. The international community has to definitely respond to this," Almagro said.
In August 2017, media reports said Trump asked top advisors about the potential for a US invasion of Venezuela. Around the same time, he said publicly that he would not rule out a "military option" to end the chaos there.
The collapse of Venezuela's oil-based economy under the increasingly authoritarian Maduro has led to dire shortages of food and medicine.
Maduro has angrily blamed the US for many of his problems.