How an Elaborate Plan to Topple Venezuela’s President Went Wrong


An anti-government protester winds up to return a tear gas canister launched by security forces to disperse demonstrators in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, May 1, 2019.

By Uri Friedman

May 1, 2019

The United States thought all the pieces were in place for Maduro to leave. Then everything came crashing down.

In the effort to topple Nicolás Maduro, Colombia’s ambassador to the United States once told me, the military men propping up Venezuela’s authoritarian president are like chess pieces.

If they defect from the regime, “you lose that chess piece,” Francisco Santos explained. “They work better from the inside.”

As Tuesday, April 30, began, the United States and its allies thought they finally had checkmate, after months of building up the opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president and recruiting more than 50 nations to their cause.

By the end of the day, the board had been flipped upside down, pieces were scattered everywhere, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on CNN blaming the kingmakers, Russia and Cuba, for sabotaging the game.

Donald Trump’s administration has at the same time continued issuing warnings to Maduro and his associates, though it’s unclear what effect they will actually have or whether they will save Guaidó. (In the latest sign that major U.S. actions could still be in the offing, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has canceled a trip to Europe in order to coordinate with the National Security Council and State Department on Venezuela.)

Maduro’s airplane was on the tarmac and he was prepared to depart for Cuba on Tuesday morning, but “the Russians indicated he should stay,” the U.S. secretary of state revealed. (The Russians have disputed this account.) The Cubans, he added, are “protecting this thug” and are “at the center of this malfeasance.”

Earlier in the day, National Security Adviser John Bolton had declared that the upheaval in Venezuela was “clearly not a coup.” What has since become clearer is that it amounted to a botched attempt to replace the Maduro government from within.

With the elaborate, out-of-control bid for regime change in Latin America, the U.S.-Russia proxy struggle, and the intrigue involving shadowy Cuban forces, it was as if the world had suddenly been seized by a live experiment in what the Cold War would have been like had it played out on Twitter. (Bolton’s coup comment, after all, came in response to a reporter’s question about whether the Trump administration was providing any support to Maduro’s challengers beyond “tweets of support,” a query Henry Kissinger never fielded back in the day.)

Tuesday started with Guaidó posting a video on Twitter at dawn of him at a military air base—flanked by soldiers and the imprisoned opposition figure Leopoldo López, apparently freed by security forces from house arrest—announcing the “final phase of Operation Freedom” in partnership with Venezuela’s “main military units,” ahead of planned protests on May 1.

This, it turned out, would be the high point of the day for Guaidó’s pro-democracy movement.

Bedlam, not freedom, ensued. Maduro officials accused Guaidó and fringe elements of the military of staging a coup, as opponents and supporters of Maduro clashed violently in the streets.

Within hours, dozens of people returned to the site to threaten a “complete embargo” and “highest-level sanctions” on Cuba if “Cuban Troops and Militia do not immediately CEASE military and other operations” in Venezuela.

As Operation Freedom went sideways, U.S. officials began divulging details of an effort that had gone spectacularly wrong.

After months of hinting coyly that Maduro’s support within the military was more wobbly than it seemed, Bolton named three top Venezuelan officials—Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino; Supreme Court Chief Justice Maikel Moreno; and the commander of the presidential guard, Iván Rafael Hernández Dala—who he claimed had been engaged in lengthy talks with the Venezuelan opposition and had “all agreed that Maduro had to go,” only to renege this week (at least so far) on their commitments to facilitate a democratic political transition.

In a tweet addressed to the three men, Bolton suggested that the terms of the deal had been to help remove Maduro from power in exchange for amnesty from Guaidó and the lifting of U.S. sanctions against them. (Pompeo even implied that the Trump administration was involved in the negotiations, noting that “senior leaders” in Maduro’s government had “told us” they “were prepared to leave … over the past few weeks.”)

On Wednesday, in an interview with the radio host Hugh Hewitt, Bolton outlined how the plan was supposed to work. The senior officials and Guaidó would sign documents memorializing their agreement. The Venezuelan Supreme Court would declare Maduro’s Constituent Assembly illegitimate and thereby legitimize the Guaidó-led National Assembly. Military leaders like Padrino would then have the political and legal cover to take action against Maduro.

Yet “for reasons that are still not clear, that didn’t go forward yesterday,” Bolton admitted. (Another senior official, the head of Venezuela’s intelligence service, did in fact split with Maduro, according to U.S. officials.)

Speaking with reporters at the White House on Tuesday, Bolton offered one theory for why the plan never came to fruition: The Cuban government had prevailed on the three officials to stick with their boss. Fear of the tens of thousands of Cuban security forces in the country, he argued, is keeping military officials in check.

On television and Twitter on Tuesday, the defense minister repeatedly backed Maduro. But by ratting out Padrino and the other officials, and thus exposing them to Maduro’s retribution, U.S. officials seemed to be deliberately sowing dissension and mistrust in the upper echelons of the Maduro government—as a means of deepening its dysfunction and pressuring top officials to move against Maduro before he moved against them.

As the Republican Senator Marco Rubio, an wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, “high ranking #MaduroRegime officials must now deal with the realization that despite their tweets of support & appearance with #Maduro on TV last night he knows they plotted against him. If Maduro remains in power what do you think their future holds?” Just in case his point was too subtle, Rubio appended an image of a scene from The Godfather in which Michael Corleone lashes into his brother Fredo for betraying him, before ordering his assassination.

Guaidó, for his part, seems undaunted and told Hewitt, “I just don’t believe President Trump is prepared to see foreign governments effectively take over the control of Venezuela, which possesses the largest reserves of petroleum in the world.”

But after playing some of its best chess pieces and coming up empty, the U.S. government is running low on ways to counter such escalations and boot Maduro from Caracas.

Despite administration officials’ ominous mantra that “all options are on the table” in Venezuela, they appear to have little appetite for taking military action, even as Cuba and Russia told lawmakers that the military has not been given orders to prepare for war in Venezuela.

The United States has also already deployed its most powerful economic weapon against the Maduro government—a de facto oil embargo—and is now resorting to dribbling out additional sanctions with diminishing returns.

Ahead of more anti-Maduro demonstrations on Wednesday, Bolton tried to put a rosy spin on Tuesday’s tumultuous events. Maduro’s support within the military has cratered and his support among the Venezuelan public is nonexistent, he argued, forcing the Venezuelan president to desperately cling to Cuba, a cadre of corrupt officials, and paramilitary groups known as colectivos.

Nevertheless, he acknowledged that if the campaign to dethrone Maduro fails, Venezuela could “sink into a dictatorship from which there are very few possible alternatives.”

The results of that campaign at the moment—something utterly unsettled, halfway between kleptocracy and democracy—were on display in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday at the Venezuelan embassy. Pro-Maduro activists affiliated with Code Pink and other groups, who had occupied the abandoned building and plastered it with messages denouncing American imperialism and regime change, confronted pro-Guaidó protesters across steel barricades and expressionless Secret Service agents. The dueling chants and posters punctuated the confusion of the present moment.

After grabbing a megaphone and denouncing the embassy squatters for siding with Maduro’s repressive rule, Carla Bustillos, a Venezuelan American from Maryland, told me that one stubborn fact was standing in the way of real political change in Venezuela. “You have to understand that the regime holds the arms,” she said, while holding her 1-year-old son, cloaked in Venezuelan-flag clothing, in a baby carrier. “The regime holds the hard power.”

Source: Defense One “How an Elaborate Plan to Topple Venezuela’s President Went Wrong”

Note: This is Defense One’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


Explainer: Venezuela crisis puts Trump policy to the test


Matt Spetalnick May 2, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration faces a critical test of its Venezuela policy as opposition leader Juan Guaido, bolstered by vocal U.S. support, pressures the country’s military to abandon socialist President Nicolas Maduro and mounts mass protests to force him out.

In its biggest political and diplomatic intervention in Latin America in years, the U.S. government has rolled out waves of punitive measures against Venezuela, including several rounds of sanctions on its leadership, vital oil sector and banks.

With fewer levers left to pull and protests apparently petering out on Wednesday, President Donald Trump could suffer a setback if Guaido’s latest push fails to ignite a broader uprising against Maduro. Here are Trump’s challenges and remaining options:

GETTING THE MILITARY TO TURN

U.S. officials appeared to have been overly optimistic about quickly sparking a military revolt against Maduro after Washington recognized Guaido as interim president in January. Maduro seems to have retained the loyalty of most officers.

Hawkish national security adviser John Bolton and other Trump aides chafed on Tuesday over what they said was the failure of three senior Maduro loyalists who purportedly had negotiated with the opposition to change sides but then reneged.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Maduro had been expected to flee the country on Tuesday but Russia convinced him to stay. The Kremlin denied this.

Strong doubts remain whether Guaido’s offer of amnesty and U.S. promises to lift sanctions will be enough to spur the military to abandon Maduro in large numbers.

TIGHTENING FINANCIAL NOOSE

The Trump administration has relied more than anything else on sanctions to put bite in its anti-Maduro policy. The sanctions are aimed at choking off cash flow to his government – and more measures are coming, say U.S. officials.

While some of the toughest steps have already been taken, the administration could add to its list of blacklisted Venezuelan banks, companies and individuals – though it is unclear whether this will have significant impact.

It could also act against remaining foreign partners of state oil company PDVSA, using “secondary” sanctions of the type Washington has threatened against foreign companies doing business with Iran.

Potential targets are Spanish oil company Repsol, Russian state oil major Rosneft and India’s Reliance Industries. Such moves, however, would anger their governments.

U.S. MILITARY OPTIONS

Trump and his aides have repeatedly said military options are on the table. But there is deep skepticism whether the president, who is trying to extract the United States from Syria and Afghanistan, is ready for a new foreign conflict.

The Pentagon on Wednesday appeared to downplay any active preparations for military action in Venezuela, but acknowledged detailed contingency planning. Just hours earlier, Pompeo said the United States was prepared to act militarily “if that’s what’s required.”

But U.S. officials continued to emphasize diplomatic and economic pressure as the best way to help oust Maduro.

PRESSURING RUSSIA AND CUBA

The Trump administration has become increasingly critical of Russia and Cuba, accusing them of propping up their staunch ally Maduro. But neither Moscow nor Havana are heeding U.S. warnings.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country’s rightful interim ruler, speaks to supporters during a rally against the government of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and to commemorate May Day in Caracas Venezuela, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Pompeo, in a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday, said intervention by Russia is “destabilizing” for U.S.-Russia relations.

Lavrov told Pompeo further “aggressive steps” in Venezuela would be fraught with the gravest consequences, the Russian foreign ministry said.

Russia, which has supplied Venezuela with weapons and loans and recently sent in about a hundred military personnel, says the United States is trying to encourage a coup.

Trump on Tuesday threatened a “full and complete embargo” on Cuba if its Communist leadership did not withdraw security backing for Maduro.

U.S. officials have said Cuba has 20,000 to 25,000 military and intelligence personnel in Venezuela. Cuba has repeatedly denied it has troops in the country.

LOOKING TO 2020 ELECTION

Trump’s handling of Venezuela is one of the few foreign policy initiatives that has won bipartisan support, and what happens in coming months could also have implications for his 2020 re-election bid.

His toughened stance on Cuba and Venezuela has gone down well among Cuban Americans in south Florida, an important voting bloc in a political swing state seen as crucial to his chances of retaining the White House.

However, if Maduro is still firmly in power, it will be hard for Trump to tout Venezuela as a foreign policy success.

Reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Roberta Rampton, Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali, Lesley Wroughton; Writing by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Mary Milliken and Rosalba O’Brien

Source: Reuters “Explainer: Venezuela crisis puts Trump policy to the test”

Note: This is Reuters’ article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views


Venezuela Threatens Further Blatant Agression Against Bolton’s Beautiful Monroe Doctrine


Says may invite yet more Russian troops

Tom O’Connor 5 Apr 19

The Russian-Venezuelan aggression intensifies

Venezuela has said that more Russian military personnel may arrive to support the Latin American country, where the U.S. has sought to oust the socialist-led government.

Commenting on the presence of up to 100 Russian military personnel who arrived in Caracas last month amid threats of U.S. intervention, Venezuelan Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Gil told Russia’s Interfax news agency Thursday that “the group of military specialists is within our agreements and contracts on military-technical cooperation.” He said they would remain there “as long as necessary.”

Gil then revealed that more troops could be on the way, but “all within the framework of those agreements,” which reportedly included the maintanance of S-300 surface-to-air systems sold by Moscow to Caracas under the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Chávez’s successor, President Nicolás Maduro, has faced overt pressure from President Donald Trump’s administration to step down since parliament speaker Juan Guaidó declared himself interim leader in January as the country faced a historic economic crisis exacerbated by mounting U.S. sanctions.

Russia’s support for Maduro angered U.S. officials, who responded to Moscow’s recent deployment—which followed joint Russian-Venezuelan drills in the Caribbean in December—with outrage. President Donald Trump warned last week that “all options are open” in ensuring an exit for the Russians and his envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, who was reportedly part of a 2002 coup attempt against Chávez. Trump cautioned that the country would “pay a price” for its actions in support of Maduro.

Moscow defended its deployment as part of its “military-technical cooperation” with Caracas and Russia’s state-run Rostec conglomerate, announcing Tuesday that it had opened a new center to train Venezuelan pilots to fly Russian-built military helicopters. In remarks published the following day by Moscow-based newspaper Moskovskij Komsomolets, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov challenged White House National Security Adviser John Bolton’s warning to “actors external to the Western Hemisphere against deploying military assets to Venezuela” by pointing out that “the whole world” is covered with U.S. bases.

In that same interview, Lavrov said he had so far ruled out a scenario similar to that of Syria, where Russia sent troops to counter a U.S.-backed insurgency and various jihadi groups attempted to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian leader himself, however, drew comparisons between the crises in his country and Venezuela during a meeting Thursday with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza in Damascus.

“What’s happening in Venezuela is similar to what happened in Syria, and its aim is achieving hegemony over nations and the seizure of their independent decision making, which undermines international law and is contrary to the most important principles of the United Nations Charter to respect the sovereignty of states and the right of their peoples to self-determination,” Assad said, according to his office.

Source: checkpointasia.net “Venezuela Threatens Further Blatant Agression Against Bolton’s Beautiful Monroe Doctrine”

Note: This is checkpointasia.net’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


China says humanitarian aid should not be forced into Venezuela


February 22, 2019

BEIJING (Reuters) – Humanitarian aid should not be forced into Venezuela, lest it cause violence, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday, warning that Beijing opposed military intervention in the country.

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro threatened to close the border with Colombia on Thursday as opposition leader Juan Guaido and some 80 lawmakers ran a gauntlet of roadblocks trying to get to the frontier to receive humanitarian aid.

Guaido, who is recognized by dozens of countries as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state, was poised for a showdown with Maduro’s government on Saturday, when the opposition will attempt to bring in food and medicine being stockpiled in neighboring countries.

Maduro denies there is a humanitarian crisis and said on Thursday he was considering closing Venezuela’s key border with Colombia and would close the country’s other main border with Brazil, effectively shutting off any legal land access.

Speaking at a daily news conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that the Venezuelan government had “remained calm and exercised restraint”, effectively preventing large-scale clashes.

“If so-called aid material is forced into Venezuela, and then if it causes violence and clashes, it will have serious consequences. This is not something anyone wants to see,” Geng said.

“China opposes military intervention in Venezuela, and opposes any actions causing tensions or even unrest,” he said.

Maduro retains the backing of both Russia and China.

Beijing has lent more than $50 billion to Venezuela through oil-for-loan agreements over the past decade, securing energy supplies for its fast-growing economy.

A change of government in Venezuela would favor Russia and China, who are the country’s two main foreign creditors, Guaido told Reuters in an interview last month.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Darren Schuettler

Source: Reuters “China says humanitarian aid should not be forced into Venezuela”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


China says U.S. should bear consequences of Venezuela sanctions


January 29, 2019

BEIJING (Reuters) – The United States should bear responsibility for the consequences of its sanctions on Venezuela, China said on Tuesday, after Washington imposed sweeping restrictions on Venezuelan state-owned oil firm PDVSA.

The latest U.S. sanctions announced on Monday appear to be aimed at pressuring President Nicolas Maduro to step down and to build on the momentum that has mounted in recent weeks against him at home and abroad.

Juan Guaido, the Venezuelan opposition leader who proclaimed himself interim president last week with U.S. backing, and who is supported by most Western countries, says Maduro stole his re-election and must resign to allow new, fair polls.

China has said it opposes unilateral sanctions.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said historical experience showed foreign interference “only makes situations more complicated”.

“The relevant country’s sanctions on Venezuela will lead to the deterioration of conditions of people’s lives,” Geng told a regular news briefing in Beijing, referring to the United States.

“They should bear responsibility for the serious consequences from this,” he said.

China has lent more than $50 billion to Venezuela through oil-for-loan agreements over the past decade, securing energy supplies for its fast-growing economy.

But the financing dried up as the South American country’s economy began spiraling downward in 2015, pressured by plummeting oil prices.

The Trump administration had long held off targeting Venezuela’s oil sector for fear that it would hurt U.S. refiners and raise oil prices for Americans. White House officials had also expressed concern about inflicting further hardship on the Venezuelan people.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel

Source: Reuters “China says U.S. should bear consequences of Venezuela sanctions”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


Venezuela’s Chaos, Mirror for the US in Similar Trouble


Stratfor’s report “Venezuela’s on a Road to Nowhere Good” is a good mirror for the US that tells us that like Venezuela, the US is on a road to nowhere good.

Let’s make a comparison between US trouble with Venezuela’s as described in the report’s highlights.

1. ◾The United States and Venezuela’s government opposition will increase pressure on the administration of President Nicolas Maduro in an attempt to further divide the country’s ruling elites.

US ruling elites are seriously divided too so that US government has to shut down for more than a month though there is no outside pressure. Trump’s tariff war with China may make the US further divided.

2.◾U.S. punitory measures, such as an oil import ban, will drive some military officers and key officials to consider pushing Maduro from office to avoid heavier sanctions and ease internal competition for scarce revenue.

US opposition also considers pushing US president from office though there is no outside pressure to help them. Serious internal competition for scare revenue has caused US government to shut down. US situation is even worse. It is self destructing.

3.◾The severity of Washington’s approach, combined with the Venezuelan government’s reluctance to voluntarily step down, make a violent exit for Maduro increasingly likely.

Trump’s reluctance to voluntarily step down makes chaos caused by his forced exit increasingly likely. Trump has caused US government to shut down. Maduro has not done anything so serious.

There is the risk of further worse chaos in Venezuela that may be caused by US intervention and even invasion.

Libya, Iraq, Syria, Afghanista, etc. are examples of what trouble and chaos US intervention and invasion may bring about.

Without US intervention, it is possible for Venezuela to overcome its difficulties as it has rich resources for its economic recovery.

The US, however, is so large and powerful as no other country is able to intervene or invade it, but it may split due to the division of its elite. As the US advocates self determination, quite a few states may declare independence to realize their self determination. California may be the first to do so.

Look at the mirror, US elite. If you do not want to follow Venezuela’s road to nowhere, set you own house in order.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Stratfor’s report, full text of which can be viewed at https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/venezuelas-road-nowhere-good?utm_campaign=B2C%20%7C%20Newsletter%20%7C%20060818&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=69283573&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9fWH7LeHpkYt52HHB45O_FACj5fl4K9mRQQL15lavwcvie9tVOmEIUQdHxdZtNIxaYcEYnWaPjiNK5dlDTDWAp-uQDaQ&_hsmi=69283964.