News & Politics

Report: U.S. Officials Met With Venezuelan Military Officers Engaged in Coup Plot

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a May Day march in Caracas, Venezuela. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

The New York Times reported today that Venezuelan military officers met secretly with U.S. government officials to discuss a coup being planned against the regime of President Nicolas Maduro.

The U.S. eventually decided not to assist the plotters and the plans came to nothing. But the Times revealed that U.S. officials were told there were three factions in the Venezuelan military that were intent on overthrowing the Maduro regime.

One of the primary Venezuelan officers involved in the talks was on the State Department’s sanctions list of Venezuelan military members. He mentioned Trump’s suggestion that the U.S. take military action against Maduro’s regime. “It was the commander in chief saying this now,” the former Venezuelan commander on the sanctions list said in an interview, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals by the Venezuelan government. “I’m not going to doubt it when this was the messenger.”

In a series of covert meetings abroad, which began last fall and continued this year, the military officers told the American government that they represented a few hundred members of the armed forces who had soured on Mr. Maduro’s authoritarianism.

The officers asked the United States to supply them with encrypted radios, citing the need to communicate securely, as they developed a plan to install a transitional government to run the country until elections could be held.

American officials did not provide material support, and the plans unraveled after a recent crackdown that led to the arrest of dozens of the plotters.

How serious were the plotters? They were apparently the gang that couldn’t plot straight:

After the first meeting, which took place in the fall of 2017, the diplomat reported that the Venezuelans didn’t appear to have a detailed plan and had showed up at the encounter hoping the Americans would offer guidance or ideas, officials said.

The former Venezuelan commander said that the rebellious officers never asked for an American military intervention. “I never agreed, nor did they propose, to do a joint operation,” he said.

He claimed that he and his comrades considered striking last summer, when the government suspended the powers of the legislature and installed a new national assembly loyal to Mr. Maduro. But he said they aborted the plan, fearing it would lead to bloodshed.

They later planned to take power in March, the former officer said, but that plan leaked. Finally, the dissidents looked to the May 20 election, during which Mr. Maduro was re-elected, as a new target date. But again, word got out and the plotters held their fire.

It is unclear how many of these details the coup planners shared with the Americans. But there is no indication that Mr. Maduro knew the mutinous officers were talking to the Americans at all.

After the Times story, you can bet Maduro knows now.

It appears that the administration approached this overture with the proper caution and in the end, made the right decision. The world may yet be forced to intervene in Venezuela to prevent disintegration and starvation, as Maduro’s economic policies cause a meltdown of historic — and frightening — proportions. But it’s almost a certainty that the U.S. will not unilaterally intervene.