Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has hinted that the Venezuelan military could oust socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro as the country’s political, economic, and humanitarian crisis reaches devastating proportions.
Speaking at the University of Texas ahead of his five-stop Latin America tour, Tillerson said that the U.S. was not advocating regime change in Venezuela but instead a return to its constitution.
“We have not advocated for regime change or removal of President Maduro. We have advocated that they return to the constitution,” Tillerson said.
“In the history of Venezuela and in fact the history in other Latin American and South American countries, often times, it is the military that handles that,” he continued. “When things are so bad that the military leadership realizes that it just can’t serve the citizens anymore, they will manage a peaceful transition. Whether that will be the case here or not, I do not know.”
Tillerson’s comments follow a report from the Miami Herald that revealed Maduro’s authority over the military is slipping as the regime is failing to provide them with adequate food rations, meaning increasing numbers of soldiers are deserting its ranks.
The military is the principal apparatus keeping Maduro in power, and over the past year has carried out numerous human rights violations by ratcheting up repression against political dissidents.
Maduro recently called a presidential election to be held this April, although analysts believe the process will undoubtedly be rigged, with the main opposition parties banned from participating.
“Maduro should get back to his constitution and follow it,” Tillerson said. “And then, if he is not re-elected by the people, so be it. Then, if the kitchen gets a little too hot for him, I am sure that he’s got some friends over in Cuba that could give him a nice hacienda on the beach and he could have a nice life over there.”
Tillerson’s Latin America tour will include visits to Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, and Jamaica, where he will seek to promote the Trump administration’s foreign and domestic policy agenda.
Venezuela is expected to be at the forefront of all bilateral discussions. The U.S. is likely to push for additional sanctions against the regime. Other major issues to be discussed include defending the administration’s policy of reversing Barack Obama’s “Cuban Thaw,” as well as warning countries of the risks of their increased dependence on China through loans and large-scale investment.