White House officials secretly met with Venezuelan military personnel seeking to overthrow the country’s government, according to reports.
Trump administration staffers are said to have attended multiple meetings with rebel leaders seeking to stage a coup against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, starting in the autumn of 2017.
The officials eventually decided not to help the rebels and never provided any material support, but reportedly engaged with at least one Venezuelan military official currently under US sanctions.
The meetings came as the Venezuelan economy took a massive downturn and Mr Maduro’s government became increasingly restrictive, causing thousands of citizens to flee and countless others to starve. At least three factions of the Venezuelan military were plotting against Mr Maduro at the time, according to the New York Times, which first reported the claims.
At the same time, President Donald Trump had signalled his openness to a possible intervention, stating publicly that a military option was something the US “certainly could pursue”. He had also privately asked several advisers about the possibility of invading the country, according to CNN.
Early in Mr Trump’s term, one of the rebel factions reportedly attempted to reach the White House through a US embassy in a European city. The White House was hesitant first, thinking they were being set up, but eventually decided to “listen to what they had to say”, a senior administration official said.
The White House reportedly dispatched a senior diplomat to attend the meetings “purely on listening mode”, with instructions not to a negotiate. The official attended a total of three meetings before talks dissolved. The rebels tried several times to stage a coup on their own, but were unsuccessful at each turn.
The White House did not deny the reports, saying in a statement to the Times that it was important engage in “dialogue with all Venezuelans who demonstrate a desire for democracy” in order to “bring positive change to a country that has suffered so much under Maduro”.
Former President Barack Obama rebuffed the rebels when they reached out to his administration years ago, according to the Times. But the Trump administration’s willingness to entertain the idea of a coup is not entirely unheard of, and plays into a long history of US intervention in the region.
Starting in 1812, US president James Monroe declared the US would no longer tolerate European colonisation of South America – a proclamation that became known as the Monroe Doctrine. A corollary coined by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904 reaffirmed the United States’ dominance over other interests in the region.
The US also intervened in South America several times after the Second World War, in hopes of stopping the spread of Communism. Under President John F Kennedy, the US trained and funded a group of rebels seeking to overthrow President Fidel Castro in Cuba. In Chile, the US helped General Augusto Pinochet overthrow the left-wing government of Salvador Allende.
In 2015 Mr Obama declared, in relation to Latin America, that he hoped to move past the days in which “our agenda in this hemisphere presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity”.
The Democrat did however oversee the expansion of US military operations elsewhere, with a troop surge in Afghanisation and drone strikes in a number of countries.
The White House did not immediately respond to The Independent’s request for comment.
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