Trump administration officials met with dissident Venezuelan military leaders to discuss a possible coup to oust president Nicolas Maduro, according to the New York Times.
Venezuela is reeling under the leadership of Maduro, who assumed power in 2013 following the death of Hugo Chavez, and has since cemented his grip on the presidency by successfully altering the Venezuelan Constitution. His five years of rule has seen Venezuela suffer a massive economic depression, unprecedented inflation, unemployment, and a dramatic rise in crime. The Venezuelan mainstream media and Western nations view Maduro as an autocrat, but reports confirming that Trump officials sat down to entertain the possibility of a military invasion of the South American country will send shockwaves across the geopolitical climate of the region.
Trump has himself not shied away from threatening military action on the beleaguered nation, but the idea that the U.S. would secretly meet with dissident military leaders to plot a coup could send Venezuela into further political chaos.
“We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary,” Trump said in August. In July, it was reported by the Guardian that Trump had repeatedly pressed advisers about the possibility of a military invasion of Venezuela, but he was fastidiously dissuaded from such a move.
Among the Venezuelan military officers who met with Trump officials, one officer is on the U.S. sanctions list, meaning he is accused 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.
The New York Times reports that the Trump administration decided against plotting a coup following the meeting, but analysts say the move will already give Maduro enough reason to tighten his grip on power and launch a crackdown on dissidents.
“This is going to land like a bomb,” said Mari Carmen Aponte, who oversaw Latin American affairs during the Obama administration.
Attempts to thwart Maduro’s presidency have been on the rise, with a military operation codenamed “Operation Constitution” rebuffed in May of this year. Last month, two explosive-laden drones targeting Maduro failed to hit the target.
But the involvement of the United States in possible military intervention in Venezuela will give Maduro reasons to complain about a conspiracy by Western countries to remove him from power, and consequently affect the democratic efforts by dissidents in the country.
“It was the commander in chief saying this now,” the former Venezuelan commander, who was among those who met Trump officials, told the New York Times. “I’m not going to doubt it when this was the messenger.”