Saturday, 23 February 2019

Trump admin held secret talks with Venezuelan military officers to discuss Maduro coup: report

The Trump administration held a series of clandestine meetings with dissident Venezuelan military officers to discuss the overthrow of President Nicolas Maduro, before ultimately deciding not to support their coup plot, according to a New York Times report.

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The military officials in question claimed to represent a faction of a few hundred armed forces members who were fed up with Maduro’s authoritarian tendencies.

Current and former U.S. officials confirmed to CNN that several meetings were held with the rebellious officers over the past year.

READ MORE: Venezuela’s president a no-show at rally after drone blasts he said were meant to kill him

According to the New York Times, the renegade group of officers were emboldened to reach out to President Donald Trump after he said last August that the U.S. was considering a military invasion of the crisis-stricken South American country.

Trump’s remarks attracted a wave of criticism; Venezuela’s defence minister branded the threat “an act of craziness,” while the country’s communications minister called it “an unprecedented threat to national sovereignty.”

But it came as music to the ears of the would-be military insurgents, who had previously been rebuffed in attempts to reach out to the Obama administration.

WATCH: President Trump says military option could be used for Venezuela

The Venezuelan commander told the New York Times that the group didn’t ask for American military intervention, but material support — they wanted to simultaneously detain Maduro and other senior government figures, and requested the U.S. to provide them with encrypted radios so that they could securely coordinate their plot.

Their request was denied.

READ MORE: Donald Trump reportedly asked aides if U.S. could invade Venezuela last year

The bombshell report comes amid growing reports of foiled plots to take down Maduro.

In June 2017, a Venezuelan police helicopter lobbed grenades at the country’s supreme court building amid escalating anti-Maduro protests across the country.

Military officials then hatched a plot to disrupt the May 20 presidential election, arrest Maduro and put him on trial, but the Venezuelan government got wind of the conspiracy and thwarted it, Bloomberg reported.

Last month, low-flying drones exploded near a military parade attended by Maduro, whose reaction was captured on camera. Maduro officials claimed the explosive-laden drones were sent by right-wing conspirators.

WATCH: Drone ‘assassination attempt’ targets Venezuela’s Maduro

Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson openly raised the prospect of the Venezuelan military leadership staging a coup to overthrow Maduro.

“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,” he said in a speech at the University of Texas.

But he added: “Whether that will be the case here [in Venezuela] or not, I do not know.”

WATCH: White House considers Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to be a dictator

The White House didn’t confirm or deny the New York Times report, but said in a statement that it keeps its ears open to Venezuelans’ concerns.

“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,” read the statement.

“A lasting solution to Venezuela’s worsening crisis can only arise following restoration of governance by democratic practices, the rule of law, and respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms.”

The Venezuelan government and military haven’t commented.

READ MORE: Brazil could limit number of Venezuelans entering through northern border

Venezuela has lurched from crisis to crisis since Maduro succeeded the late Hugo Chavez as president in 2013.

The socialist Maduro is increasingly seen as an authoritarian ruler responsible for destroying the country’s economy and causing extreme shortages of food and medicine.

The economic collapse has sparked concerns of a regional refugee crisis, with thousands of Venezuelans already fleeing to neighbouring Colombia, Brazil and Peru.


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