US Held Secret Meetings With Coup Plotting Venezuelan Military Officers
Coup-minded Venezuelan military officers that met with the Trump administration during the last year consider deposing President Nicolás Maduro, according to a New York Times article, citing “American officials and a former Venezuelan military commander who participated in the talks.”
Specific comments were not made by the White House, but National Security spokesman Garret Marquis said, “U.S. policy preference for a peaceful, orderly return to democracy in Venezuela remains unchanged. The United States government hears daily the concerns of Venezuelans from all walks of life — be they members of the ruling party, the security services, elements of civil society or from among the millions of citizens forced by the regime to flee abroad. They share one goal: the rebuilding of democracy in their homeland.”
Newsweek reported that at least three secret meetings occurred, but not on U.S. soil, over the past year. The Venezuelan dispatchment said it represented several hundred members of the military. However, when Maduro began cracking down and arresting opposition, the talks fells apart and U.S. support never materialized.
A May 30th article in The Atlantic described the situation in Venezuela as being in stark crisis: “It’s difficult to describe the state of Venezuela today without coming across as a little hysterical. Phrases like “zombie movie set” and “post-apocalyptic hellscape” keep turning up in the accounts of recent visitors, who are staggered to see a society reach the levels of decay normally associated with wartime, but without a war. …The total absence of credible new policies with an adamant refusal to acknowledge the scale of suffering his policies continue to cause are now the regime’s defining characteristics.”
The apparent trigger for Venezuela’s military to approach the Trump administration was the President’s suggestion that the U.S. had a military option available to deal with the country.
U.S. and Venezuela have not even been on speaking terms, with neither country sending ambassadors for the past eight years. Trump piled sanctions on Maduro and his cronies when he took office. However, the rapidly-deteriorating situation in Venezuela encouraged the U.S. to send a representative to an initial meeting, merely to listen to what the officials had to say.
The Times’ account of that meeting quoted officials as saying, “the Venezuelans didn’t appear to have a detailed plan and had showed up at the encounter hoping the Americans would offer guidance or ideas.”
The Times also quoted a former Venezuelan military commander who said that the coup would only work if Maduro could be detained along with his supporters. Hence, at the second meeting, they requested secure communications equipment. This, according to the Times, was turned down by U.S. officials.
The third meeting apparently frustrated the Venezuelans more, as it was not clear if the U.S. even supported the plans, although the fact that the U.S. officials met at all seemed to suggest underlying approval.
There is considerable downside to dealing with the Venezuelan military, which is seen as openly supporting the cocaine trade in Latin America. The former ambassador to Mexico and former top State Department official on Latin America, Roberta Jacobsen, suggested that — despite being unsavory — there was merit in meeting with the military. She told the Times, “Given the broader breakdown in institutions in Venezuela, there was a feeling that — while they were not necessarily the answer — any kind of democratic resolution would have had to have the military on board. The idea of hearing from actors in those places, no matter how unsavory they may be, is integral to diplomacy.”
Mike Bentley is a U.S. Politics Editor at NONPART.com