Pentagon official: Military ready to protect US personnel, facilities in Venezuela

Pentagon official: Military ready to protect US personnel, facilities in Venezuela
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The head of U.S. Southern America Command (Southcom) on Thursday said the military is prepared to protect Americans and U.S. diplomatic facilities in Venezuela “if necessary.”

“Southcom is supporting diplomatic efforts, and we are prepared to protect U.S. personnel and diplomatic facilities if necessary,” Navy Adm. Craig Faller said in his opening remarks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

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Venezuela is in the midst of a political crisis under President Nicolás Maduro, who was sworn in for a second term last month. His election has widely been viewed as illegitimate, and the Trump administration last month recognized the leader of the country’s National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as interim president.

Canada and several European and South American nations have since announced their support for Guaidó.

As the crisis worsens, President Trump has repeatedly floated the possibility of using U.S. forces to push out Maduro. Last week he said U.S. military intervention in the country is an “option.”

Faller called the situation in Venezuela “dire,” and said Maduro’s government “starves its people by using food as a weapon.”

Venezuela has “about 2,000 generals – more than all of NATO combined” with the majority of them on Maduro’s payroll via illicit drug trafficking, oil profits and corrupt businesses “to buy their loyalty and protection,” Faller said.

He added that Cuba “pretty much owns the security around Maduro and is deeply entrenched in the intelligence service.”

He also said the Venezuelan military is “starving just like their population,” and believes that the people are “ready for a new leader.”

“The legitimate government of President Guaidó has offered amnesty and a place for the military forces, most of which we think would be loyal to the Constitution, not to a dictator, a place to go,” Faller said.

He warned that while Venezuela's military is “a degraded force,” it is still largely loyal to Maduro, “and that makes it dangerous.”

Speculation over a possible U.S. military intervention in Venezuela was raised late last month when national security adviser John Bolton was photographed at a White House press briefing holding a yellow notepad with the words “5,000 troops to Colombia” written on it.

Bolton would not comment on the note and has said a military intervention in Venezuela is not imminent but “all options are on the table.”

U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, have called for transparency on the administration’s plans for the South American country.

“Congress must be consulted if there is any military planning action beyond the current planning for the evacuation of U.S. citizens and embassy personnel," Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis Reed Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal Barr says 'spying' took place on Trump campaign MORE (D-R.I.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said at Thursday's hearing.