0315 GMT February 17, 2019
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza responded Saturday to an article by The New York Times detailing secret meetings between American officials and Venezuelan officers seeking to oust Maduro. “We denounce before the world the United States’ intervention plans and help to military conspirators against Venezuela,” he said on Twitter, adding that the article had “brought to light new and crude evidence” of such a plot.
The Times article, based on interviews with United States officials and a Venezuelan former military commander who is seeking to overthrow Maduro, gave an account of several meetings that took place starting last fall and continuing into this year.
The main request of the military plotters was encrypted radios, which they planned to use to communicate among themselves in order to capture Maduro and his lieutenants. But the United States never granted the request, and after multiple meetings, the Venezuelans became frustrated. Maduro’s government has since jailed dozens of the conspirators, though many remain at large, nytimes.com reported.
Among those who denounced the secret meetings was President Evo Morales of Bolivia, a longtime leftist ally of Maduro, who referred to them on Saturday as “Trump’s coup conspiracy.”
In a tweet he wrote, “The free countries of Latin America will withstand and defeat any further attacks of the Empire against the peace and democracy in the region.”
We condemn Trump's coup conspiracy by holding secret meetings with Venezuelan military traitors to overthrow our brother Nicolás Maduro. The free countries of Latin America will withstand and defeat any further attacks of the Empire against the peace and democracy in the region
The White House has not commented on the meetings.
On Saturday, Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the United States preferred “a peaceful, orderly transition to democracy in Venezuela.” He added that the government “hears daily the concerns of Venezuelans from all walks of life” and that “they share one goal: the rebuilding of democracy in their homeland.”
However, some former officials defended the meetings, arguing that something must be done to stem the humanitarian crises set off by Maduro’s authoritarian leadership, from shortages of food and medicine to the migration of millions of Venezuelans from the country.
“If you don’t like the idea of the US talking to the military, then what do you propose?” said Richard N. Haass, a former top State Department official in the George W. Bush administration who is now the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
He said that while he did not support a coup, the region should consider a “Latin American coalition of the willing,” an alliance of Venezuela’s neighbors created for a possible regional military intervention, similar to the United States’ invasion of Iraq.
While Latin American leaders loudly condemned remarks by President Trump last year saying there was a “military option” to thwart Maduro, the reaction to the news that American officials had met with coup plotters was muted this time. Morales was the only president who came to the defense of Maduro.
That reflects the growing exasperation with Maduro’s government, some experts say.