Eleven White House aides reportedly discussed a plan to remove the president of Venezuela from office.
During several closed-door meetings in 2017 and early this year with leaders of Venezuela's armed forces, the advisers considered conspiring to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro, according to The New York Times. The newspaper cited as its sources “American officials and a former Venezuelan military officer.”
One of the Central American country's military commanders involved in the talks has been a target of U.S. sanctions. The officer is linked to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known as FARC, which the United States deems a terrorist group.
The Times learned that anti-Maduro officials in Venezuela's military were unable to persuade the Obama administration to help them oust their president, but the Trump White House was open to the idea.
“We have many options for Venezuela and by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option,” Trump told the Rieger Report in August 2017. “A military option is certainly something that we could pursue.” However, the Venezuelan military officer interviewed by the Times insisted: “I never agreed, nor did they propose, to do a joint operation.”
Journalist Bob Woodward revealed in “Fear,” his new book concerning the Trump White House, that last summer the president asked his national security adviser at the time about overthrowing Maduro. The former aide, H.R. McMaster, “did his best to dissuade Trump — and thought he had succeeded — until Trump raised the possibility publicly at a media appearance and in a meeting with Latin American leaders at the U.N. General Assembly,” the Washington Post reported.
The administration has elicited charges of hypocrisy for criticizing Maduro. Ajamu Baraka, a U.S. activist, tweeted: “There are few nations that can lecture other nations on human rights (and) democracy but the one nation that can never lecture anyone is the United States of America. We need human rights & real democracy in the U.S. Not that it makes a difference for the gangsters making policy in the U.S., but threatening military actions against other states is a violation of U.N. Charter.”
The Times pointed out that the United States has a “long history of covert intervention across Latin America,” and that “many in the region still deeply resent the United States for backing previous rebellions, coups and plots in countries like Cuba, Nicaragua, Brazil and Chile.”
Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela's foreign minister, tweeted that the report “brought to light new and crude evidence” of the plot to depose Maduro. “We denounce before the world the United States' intervention plans and help to military conspirators against Venezuela,” the official added.
Human Rights Watch wrote that Maduro “has abused his powers to crack down on dissent, brutalize peaceful protesters, turn a blind eye to the pressing humanitarian crisis, and move forward with presidential elections despite widespread concerns that they lacked guarantees to be free and fair.” Maduro allegedly has tortured his adversaries and locked up hundreds of political prisoners.
Thousands of Venezuelans are struggling to find food and potable water. Many suffer from a variety of diseases, including malaria and measles. A survey by three universities found that the average resident lost 24 pounds in body weight last year.
Some top government officials, along with Maduro's business allies, “have plundered the national oil company and taken advantage of lax U.S. laws to stash their stolen fortunes in America,” according to ThinkProgress.
The news site noted that thousands of Venezuelans are escaping to neighboring nations like Brazil every day. The number of refugees has exceeded 2.3 million. “The problem of Venezuela is no longer one of internal politics. It is a threat to the harmony of the whole continent,” Brazilian President Michel Temer declared last month, when he deployed troops to the border.
Peru, to which more than 400,000 Venezuelans have fled, has declared a health emergency. “They’re going to take jobs from us poor Peruvians,” right-wing political candidate Ricardo Belmont warned. “Let's see them take a medical exam, like we ask of servants in our homes. Ask for a certificate of good conduct.”
Peru and Ecuador are now requiring passports for those trying to enter their countries. Since the beginning of 2018, more than 500,000 Venezuelans have crossed into Ecuador. There are at least a million refugees in Colombia who cannot leave because of neighboring countries' immigration restrictions.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we can’t go back,” a displaced Venezuelan told Reuters. “I’m not sending my fiancee to go back and go hungry. You’ve no idea what it’s like. Whole families eat from the trash.”