Tillerson floats possible Venezuelan military coup, says US does not advocate 'regime change'

Tillerson floats possible Venezuelan military coup, says US does not advocate 'regime change'
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Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Memo: Putin furor sparks new questions on Kelly’s future US steps up its game in Africa, a continent open for business Matt Drudge shares mock ‘Survivor’ cover suggesting more White House officials will leave this summer MORE said Thursday that the U.S. does not advocate for "regime change" in Venezuela, but speculated that the country's military could move to oust President Nicolás Maduro.

Speaking at the University of Texas at Austin ahead of a five-country swing through Latin America and the Caribbean, Tillerson said he did not know whether a military ouster of Maduro would happen, but he hoped change would happen peacefully.

"In the history of Venezuela and South American countries, it is often times that the military is the agent of change when things are so bad and the leadership can no longer serve the people," Tillerson said. 

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"Whether that will be the case here or not, I do not know," he continued. 

But Tillerson also said he believed that political change in the country would come, and it would be "easiest" if Maduro chose to step aside. 

"I think there will be a change. We want it to be a peaceful change," he said. "Peaceful transitions, peaceful regime change, is always better than the alternative."

Political turmoil in Venezuela is set to be a central topic during Tillerson's trip, which includes stops in Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Jamaica. Tensions between Washington and Caracas have soared in recent months amid efforts by Maduro to consolidate power. 

In his speech Thursday, Tillerson touted U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan officials and delivered a pledge to crackdown on corruption and authoritarian governments in Latin America. He also suggested that if Maduro were to step down amid pressure, he could flee to Cuba.

"If the kitchen gets a little too hot for him, I'm sure he's got some friends in Cuba that can give him a nice hacienda on the beach and he can have a nice life over there," Tillerson said.