Venezuela is a mess. People are starving, the economy is moribund, the jackboot of socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro’s regime continues to undermine democracy and the rule of law, and COVID-19 has ravaged the country.
The U.S. State Department lists the grim facts and figures:
The economy and basic social services continue to spiral downward. The humanitarian crisis is further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Over 9.4 million Venezuelans are moderately to severely malnourished – one-third of the population.
- According to the United Nations, 11 million Venezuelans have been forcibly displaced.
- More than 5 million Venezuelans have fled the country.
- Over 90 percent of families report not being able to buy enough food, and Venezuelans lost an average of 24 pounds in 2018.
There’s a political crisis too. Maduro refuses to recognize the action by the National Assembly to replace him with Assembly President Juan Guaidó. The U.S. and nearly 60 other countries and the OAS recognize Guaidó as the rightful president.
What followed was predictable. Sanctions, economic hardship, more sanctions, more of a crackdown by Maduro, more sanctions. Instead of reform, Maduro has offered the Venezuelan people more of the same — a socialist system that has utterly failed to supply the people with basic needs.
There was a clumsy attempt earlier this year by some amateurs — including a few Americans — to kidnap Maduro and force him to abdicate. It’s unclear if Maduro’s secret police manipulated the situation so he could gain maximum benefit from the U.S. “plot.” Donald Trump has denied any American involvement.
The situation for ordinary Venezuelans is spiraling downward and regional actors like Colombia are being overwhelmed with millions of refugees. Clearly, something had to be done.
The president asked his most trusted ambassador, Richard Grenell, former ambassador to Germany, to travel to Mexico City and meet with a representative of Maduro to see if the dictator could be enticed into leaving. For obvious reasons, the meeting was held in absolute secrecy.
Richard Grenell, the former acting U.S. director of National Intelligence and ambassador to Germany, met with Maduro ally and Venezuelan politician Jorge Rodriguez in Mexico City, Bloomberg reported, citing four sources.
Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, was not aware of the meeting beforehand, the news outlet said.
The talks weren’t successful, people with knowledge of the meeting said, according to Bloomberg. It still isn’t clear if Rodriguez and Maduro were open to Maduro leaving office.
Any high stakes meeting like this has to be kept secret. You might argue that not telling the secretary of state about the meeting was a mistake but in this case, the fewer people who knew about the trip the fewer opportunities for a leak.
The secrecy not only protected Maduro, but Trump as well. With no guaranteed outcome, Trump didn’t want a foreign policy “failure” so close to the election.
I doubt whether one meeting with the president’s personal representative would have forced Maduro out. But if Grenell had been able to begin a process that led to Maduro’s eventual exit, it would have been worth the risk.