Trump officials met with Venezuelan officers to discuss Maduro coup – report

One officer was on the US sanctions list, but US officials declined to aid the plot, according to a New York Times report

The Trump administration held meetings with dissident Venezuelan military officers to discuss the overthrow of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, the New York Times reported on Saturday. One officer was on the US sanctions list, the paper said.

US officials eventually declined to aid the coup plot, the Times said. But news of the administration’s openness to meeting with rebellious military officials conspiring to overthrow the Maduro government could hasten the South American country’s descent into political chaos.

The White House “declined to answer detailed questions about the talks”, the Times said, adding that the administration said in a statement it supported “dialogue with all Venezuelans who demonstrate a desire for democracy” in order to “bring positive change to a country that has suffered so much under Maduro”.

The report, for which the Times cited interviews with 11 current and former US officials and a former Venezuelan military commander who participated in the meetings, will likely encourage Maduro’s claims of US involvement in conspiracies against him.

Recently, two plots have reportedly been foiled. In May, a conspiracy involving top military officials codenamed Operation Constitution was thwarted. In early August, two explosive-laden drones failed to reach their target during a rally in Caracas.

Mari Carmen Aponte, a diplomat who oversaw Latin American affairs for the Obama administration, told the Times: “This is going to land like a bomb.”

Donald Trump has publicly threatened military intervention. In August 2017, he said: “We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.” In July this year, it was reported that at the time the president repeatedly pressed advisers about the feasibility of an invasion and brought it up in discussions with South American leaders, alarming many.

Trump’s public comments were condemned by the Venezuelan government as an “act of craziness” and criticized by allies in the region. According to the Times, the plotters saw the threat as an opportunity to establish communication with the US government, having been rebuffed by Obama.

“It was the commander in chief saying this now,” the former Venezuelan commander told the Times. “I’m not going to doubt it when this was the messenger.”

The commander spoke on the condition of anonymity, the report said, out of fear of reprisal by the Venezuelan government.

He is named on a list of Venezuelan military and security officials accused by the US, the Times wrote, of “serious crimes, including torturing critics, jailing hundreds of political prisoners, wounding thousands of civilians, trafficking drugs and collaborating with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States”.

Maduro, who inherited Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution after the former president’s death in 2013, is increasingly seen as an authoritarian leader of an unstable state. Venezuela has fallen into economic disrepair, suffering food shortages, hyperinflation and falling oil production. The crisis has provoked a historic exodus of refugees that is threatening to overwhelm neighboring countries.

The outreach over Trump’s comments led to a series of clandestine meetings between US officials and the Venezuelan plotters, the Times said, reporting that the Venezuelans said they represented a “few hundred members” of the country’s armed forces who believed it was time to remove Maduro.

The officers reportedly requested that the US provide encrypted radios. The Times said US officials “did not provide material support, and the plans unraveled after a recent crackdown that led to the arrest of dozens of the plotters”.

Source:https://www.theguardian.com