Trump administration in 'direct contact with Venezuelan military and urging defections', says White House official

Revelation comes two weeks after US recognised opposition politician Juan Guaido as president

Andrew Buncombe
Friday 08 February 2019 18:38 GMT
Venezuela: Maduro blockades bridge to stop humanitarian aid entering country

Donald Trump’s administration is holding direct talks with members of the Venezuelan military and urging them to abandon president Nicolas Maduro, according to a new report.

Two weeks after opposition politician Juan Guaido declared himself Venezuela’s president and a succession of countries, including the US, recognised him as its “legitimate” leader, a White House official said it was speaking with members of the armed forces and hoping for more defections. The official also said Mr Trump was preparing new sanctions against Mr Maduro’s government.

“We believe these to be those first couple pebbles before we start really seeing bigger rocks rolling down the hill,” the unidentified official told Reuters.

The official added: “We’re still having conversations with members of the former Maduro regime, with military members, although those conversations are very, very limited.”

In the two weeks since Mr Guaido, a leader of the defunct national assembly and a protege of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, declared himself president, he has been recognised by a number of major nations, including Canada, the UK and many European countries.

China, Russia, and Mexico still regonise Mr Maduro, who were sworn in for a second term six-year term in January, following an election last year that was criticised by many members of the international community as flawed. It was boycotted by the opposition.

Mr Maduro has denounced the efforts of Mr Guaido and those nations who support him and engaging in nothing less that a coup.

In recent days, the US has been delivering humanitarian supplies to locations outside of Venezuela, which has been more than three million people flee economic hardship, hunger and political violence.

“There’s an attempt to violate our national sovereignty with this show’ of a humanitarian operation by the government of Donald Trump,” Mr Maduro said, according to the Associated Press.

Most observers believe the fate of Mr Maduro depends on what the country’s military does. For now, there have been few defections, with analysts pointing out that large number of senior officers have been part of a corrupt system benefitting from the president’s rule. They are unlikely to enjoy such lives under a new government.

Peter Stubley Venezuela air force general defects and urges people to take part in protests

The most senior defector has been Venezuelan air force Gen Francisco Yanez, who earlier this month posted a video saying he was throwing his support behind the 35-year-old Mr Guaidó.

Most top military have declared their support for Mr Maduro. In the days after Mr Guaidó’s action, defence minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said Mr Maduro was the country’s legitimate president and that the opposition was seeking to carry out a coup.

“I warn the people that there is a coup under way against our democracy and our president Nicolas Maduro,” Mr Padrino said.

“Those of us who lived through the coup of 2002 have it etched into our minds, we never thought we’d see that again, but we saw it yesterday.”

The US has a long history of interfering in the domestic politics of nations in Latin America, even supporting and organising coups. While Mr Maduro has faced widespread criticism for his increasingly authatorian rule and his his mismanagement of what was once a wealthy nation, the actions of the Trump administration have also been condemned by those who feel the US should keep its nose out.

Congresswomen Tulsi Gabbard, who is seeing to become the Democratic Party’s candidate for the 2020 presidential race, said two weeks ago: “The United States needs to stay out of Venezuela. Let the Venezuelan people determine their future. We don’t want other countries to choose our leaders – so we have to stop trying to choose theirs.”

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