Trump administration officials repeatedly met with rebel Venezuelan military officers over the past year to discuss their plans for a possible coup to replace President Nicolás Maduro, according to a new report.
American officials and a former Venezuelan military commander who participated in the talks told The New York Times that a covert channel was set up between Trump administration officials and coup plotters.
Venezuelan military officials were reportedly rebuffed by the Obama administration, but were more successful in reaching out to the Trump White House after the president said last year that the U.S. had a “military option” for Venezuela.
“It was the commander in chief saying this now,” the former Venezuelan commander told The New York Times. “I’m not going to doubt it when this was the messenger.”
As a humanitarian crisis involving massive food and medicine shortages continued to plague Venezuela, U.S. officials decided the time was ripe to try to replace the increasingly authoritarian Maduro, according to the report.
The U.S. was asked to supply encrypted radios to a few hundred service members who had reportedly soured on Maduro, but decided to not send material support while dozens of the coup plotters were later detained.
The White House said in a statement to The Hill that "U.S. policy preference for a peaceful, orderly return to democracy in Venezuela remains unchanged."
"The United States government hears daily the concerns of Venezuelans from all walks of life – be they members of the ruling party, the security services, elements of civil society or from among the millions of citizens forced by the regime to flee abroad. They share one goal: the rebuilding of democracy in their homeland,” National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said in a statement.
“A lasting solution to Venezuela’s worsening crisis can only arise following restoration of governance by democratic practices, the rule of law, and respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms,” he added.
Maduro has retained a level of support by claiming that the U.S. is trying to depose him and meddle in Venezuela’s affairs.
While some scoffed at the assertion, the developments could provide the embattled president with ammunition as he struggles to maintain his base of support, the Times reported.
The newspaper noted that the reported discussions with coup plotters could raise alarms in the region given the United States's list of interventions there, including a controversial U.S.-backed coup in Chile in 1973 and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow Cuba's Fidel Castro in 1961.
Updated: 4:19 p.m.