The Trump administration met with members of the Venezuelan military seeking support for an operation against socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro but ultimately chose not to back the particular soldiers in question, the New York Times alleged in a report published Saturday.
The Times cites anonymous American officials and an unnamed “former Venezuelan military commander” who claimed to have been present at meetings with a representative for Washington. It notes that, according to both sides, the Americans appeared underwhelmed by the lack of planning the soldiers brought to the table while requesting monetary and political assistance.
Maduro took power in 2013 following the death of predecessor Hugo Chávez. While Chávez’s socialist policies had significantly damaged the Venezuelan economy and limited political freedoms for individuals by the time of his death, Maduro’s mismanagement and heavy-handed repression have prompted the most severe humanitarian and political crisis in the history of the nation. Venezuela has run out of nearly all of the medications on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of drugs required for a functioning economy, and the average Venezuelan struggles to find food for three meals a day, scavenging through garbage to survive.
To quell protests that have raged on and off since 2014, Maduro has held several illegitimate elections, replaced the democratically elected legislature with his socialist cronies, and empowered the military to use violence to silence dissent, leading the hundreds of deaths and prolonged arrests of political prisoners.
The political opposition in Venezuela has urged the military to intervene and stop taking orders to injure and kill unarmed civilians, but no military faction has yet executed a successful restoration of constitutional order in the country.
According to the Times, military officials have been trying to reach out to the White House since the days of the Obama administration, which disregarded their requests. The Trump administration did reportedly take “secret meetings with rebellious military officers from Venezuela over the last year to discuss their plans to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro.”
According to the commander allegedly speaking to the Times, the soldiers never asked for an American military intervention. Instead, they asked “the United States to supply them with encrypted radios, citing the need to communicate securely, as they developed a plan to install a transitional government to run the country until elections could be held.”
The Times‘ American sources state that the soldiers appeared to expect more creative support on how to properly plan an operation, which they did not receive. The American officials authorized to speak to the Venezuelans were told they were only to listen to what the Venezuelans had to say, not offer any advice or support.
The soldiers did not receive any material support, the report concludes.
The White House issued a statement to the Times that the administration values “dialogue with all Venezuelans who demonstrate a desire for democracy [to] bring positive change to a country that has suffered so much under Maduro.”
The Trump administration has prioritized the suffering of the Venezuelan people since the beginning of President Donald Trump’s tenure. In February 2017, Trump made history by welcoming to the Oval Office Lilian Tintori, wife of Venezuelan political prisoner Leopoldo López, to discuss his unjust detention. In August of that year, Trump told reporters that Venezuela “is a very dangerous mess,” adding, “We have many options for Venezuela, I’m not ruling out military options.”
A report in the Associated Press published in July claimed that President Trump pressed aides to find out if a U.S. military intervention to overthrow Maduro was possible, though the discussion did not lead to any direct action.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who brought Tintori to Trump’s office last year, said in an interview with Univisión in August he, too, believes that “there is a very strong argument that can be made at this time that Venezuela and the Maduro regime has become a threat to the region and even to the United States” and that “the Armed Forces of the United States are only used in the event of a threat to national security.”