The Venezuelan government has warned it will defend itself against any intervention by the "extremist" United States after President Donald Trump raised the prospect of a "military option" in the chaos-ridden South American oil state.
Mr Trump told reporters on Friday that the use of force "was certainly something we could pursue" in Venezuela, which he described as a "dangerous mess".
"The people are suffering and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary," Mr Trump said.
His comments drew a furious response in Venezuela, where General Padrino Lopez, the defence minister, vowed that the army would fight against any foreign intervention.
"As a soldier, along with the armed forces, we are in the first line to defend the interests and the sovereignty of our beloved Venezuela," he said, describing the threat as "an act of madness, of supreme extremism".
Jorge Arreaza, the foreign minister, called on all Venezuelans to unite against the "insolent foreign aggression".
"The reckless threats of President Donald Trump aim to drag Latin America and the Caribbean into a conflict which would permanently alter the stability, the peace and the security of our region," he said.
The US has already imposed sanctions on senior government figures, including President Nicolas Maduro himself, in response to the controversial election of a constituent assembly (ANC) empowered to rewrite the constitution in favour of the revolutionary government.
Despite widespread claims of electoral fraud, the powerful assembly has begun to rule over the heads of the opposition-controlled parliament, prompting cries from powers in the region and beyond that Venezuela has stepped into dictatorship.
Amid violence that has left more than 100 dead and claims of systematic abuses by security forces, many fear the country is on the brink of a full-blown civil conflict.
Mr Trump's threat of military action, which comes after he declined to take a telephone call from Mr Maduro, would represent a serious escalation.
It sent shockwaves through the region on Saturday, galvanising allies of the Chavista government and even prompting detractors who had been clamouring for change to spring to its defence.
"In Latin America we don't want your war," said Vicente Fox, the former Mexican president who was last month banned from Venezuela over comments interpreted as encouraging regime change.
“Only an imbecile would wage war on his neighbour’s land. Violence is not the answer," he tweeted at the US president.
.@realDonaldTrump in Latinamerica we don't your war, only an imbecile would wage war on his neighbor land. Violence it's not the answer.— Vicente Fox Quesada (@VicenteFoxQue) August 11, 2017
The prospect was welcomed by some opponents inside Venezuela.
Diego Arria, a former Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations and a prominent government critic, said that for him "all actions which help to rescue liberty" were "valid and indispensable".
But many warned it played into Mr Maduro’s hands, lending weight to his claim to be under attack from a powerful imperial enemy.
“Now the threat of Trump activates Chavismo even more, just when we we have elections in two months,” said Carola Chavez, a pro-government writer and commentator, referring to long-delayed regional polls to be held under the auspices of the new assembly.
The US government seemed to be scrambling to repair the damage, with a department of defence spokesperson insisting “any insinuations by the Maduro regime that we are planning an invasion are baseless.”
There was mixed reaction to Mr Trump's words on the streets of Caracas.
Alberto Matos, a 50-year-old school teacher, told the Telegraph he did not support the government but was concerned about the consequences of intervention.
"Venezuela has many links with the Arab world and with Russia and that could turn into a major problem," he said.
Mauro Cusanno, a 47-year-old waiter, rejected any prospect of military action "from either outside or inside", describing Mr Trump's threat as "serious".
One 30-year-old entrepreneur, who did not wish to be identified, said: "I would not have any problem with an intervention because we need to get out of this problem. But it would depend on how it would be executed, of course."