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Venezuela - 2019 Coup

Donald Trump told reporters on 11 August 2017 he was considering military action against Venezuela in response to its government tearing down democratic institutions. "We have troops all over the world in places that are very far away. Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering and they're dying," he said. "We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary," Trump told reporters. Trump explained that he was "not going to rule out" a military option, adding that it was "certainly something that we could pursue."

Donald Trump had long been obsessed with the idea of seizing Iraq’s oil as some kind of reimbursement for the money the U.S. had spent waging war in the Middle East. “I still can’t believe we left Iraq without the oil,” he tweeted in 2013. “It used to be, ‘To the victor belong the spoils,’” he told Matt Lauer during a campaign forum in 2016. “Now, there was no victor there, believe me. There was no victor. But I always said: take the oil.” On Jan 26, 2017 Donald Trump said there would be no ISIS had the US kept Iraq's oil, following the US invasion into the country.

Russia’s Ambassador in Caracas Vladimir Zaemskiy on 26 December 2018 accused unnamed countries of plotting to overthrow the Venezuelan government. "An invasion cannot be ruled out, especially as some aggressive powers plan to overthrow the current government but cannot achieve this through sanctions alone".

Meet Juan Guaido

The United States and its right-wing allies in Latin America have come out in support of a parliamentary right-wing coup against the Venezuelan government of socialist President Nicolas Maduro after they supported a decision by opposition lawmaker, named Juan Guaido, to declare himself an “interim president” of Venezuela on Jan. 23 in violation of the country’s constitution.

Washington, Canada and members of the so-called Lima Group, which include Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Paraguay, and others were quick to recognize Guaido as “interim president” with the government of Donald Trump and his advisors urging the country’s military to step in and rebel against Maduro. The military has repeatedly stated its full support for the Maduro government and rejected such calls as interventionist and a breach of the sovereignty of Venezuela.

In return, Maduro has repeatedly called for the restoration of talks between his government and the opposition in order to maintain peace and avoid a U.S.-backed coup, or even military intervention by the United States in favor of removing him and placing an unelected right-wing government.

Guiado and his allies Trump, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his National Security advisor have so far responded to such calls by escalation and rejection of any dialogue. They continue to call for the military to intervene, while sources in the United States have revealed that Trump is “seriously considering” military intervention into Venezuela if Maduro does not step down.

To further the pressure, the United States imposed harsh economic sanction on the Venezuelan oil industry and its national oil company, while also blocking the bank accounts of the Venezuelan state in the United States, vowing to only remove such restrictions when Guiado achieves control of the state institutions.

David Smolansky became Venezuela’s youngest-ever mayor when he was elected in 2013 in the affluent suburb of El Hatillo. Facing arrest, Smolansky shaved his beard, donned sunglasses and slipped into Brazil disguised as a priest with a bible in hand and rosary around his neck. He now lives in Washington, DC, where he was handpicked by Secretary of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro to lead the working group on the Venezuelan migrant and refugee crisis.

On 26 July 2019, Smolansky held what he called a “cordial reunion” with Elliot Abrams, the convicted Iran-Contra felon installed by Trump as special US envoy to Venezuela. Abrams is notorious for overseeing the US covert policy of arming right-wing death squads during the 1980’s in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

As the Reagan administration’s assistant secretary of state for human rights in the 1980s, Abrams supported the US-backed dictators in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in their campaigns of repression, including death squads. He was also involved in working with Iran to arming the US-backed rebels in Nicaragua, the infamous Iran-Contra scandal. Abrams organized the illegal, covert financing of Contra rebels in Nicaragua behind the back of Congress, which had cut off funding. Abrams lied to Congress twice about his role with the Contras. Abrams did all this while casting aspersions on the motives of journalists and human rights workers who sought to tell the truth about these crimes. He pleaded guilty to both counts in 1991 but was pardoned right away by President George H.W. Bush. In the 1990s, Abrams became a founding member of the Project for a New American Century, a hawkish neoconservative think-tank.

Abrams returned to the corridors of power in 2001, as a director on the National Security Council for President George W. Bush. He played a key role in the 2002 attempted coup in Venezuela against President Hugo Chavez. Abrams enjoyed advance knowledge of, and “gave a nod to,” the (briefly successful) military coup. He was one of the architects of the 2003 Iraq war.

In February 2017, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner wanted to bring Abrams back to the State Department as deputy secretary, but Trump reportedly vetoed the proposal after reading what Abrams wrote about him during the 2016 presidential campaign, as part of the NeverTrump conservative camp.

Former U.S. diplomat Elliott Abrams, one of the masterminds behind the 2002 coup attempt against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, was appointed to lead the U.S. interference in Venezuela, as announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo 25 January 2019.

On Jan. 8, 2018, the National Assembly paved the way for the coup by authorizing the creation of a trust fund to reclaim the assets of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Juan Guaido, the head of the Venezuelan opposition-led National Assembly, said he intended to use the support of the military and the international community to take over presidential power.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met personally with Guaidó on January 10, according to the Wall Street Journal. However, Pompeo could not pronounce Guaidó’s name when he mentioned him in a press briefing on January 25, referring to him as “Juan Guido.”

On 11 January 2019 Guaido said he was ready to assume presidency on an interim basis, claiming that the Venezuelan constitution allowed him to call a snap election. Meanwhile, Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), welcomed Guaido taking over presidential powers, like it was a fait accompli, and expressed his support to the opposition figure.

The political standoff in Venezuela escalated on 23 January, when opposition leader and President of the National Assembly Juan Guaido declared himself the interim president of the Latin American country. Shortly after the United States and its several allies recognised Guaido, Maduro, for his part, accused Washington of trying to orchestrate a coup in his country. Russia, China, Cuba, Bolivia and a number of other states reaffirmed their support for constitutionally elected Maduro as Venezuela’s only legitimate president.

The brutal refusal by Venezuelan military forces loyal to the country's besieged President Nicolas Maduro to allow foreign aid into the country on 23 February 2018 increased the chance of Washington getting involved militarily in the conflict between Maduro and Juan Guaido. In the aftermath of the deadly clashes, Guaido, who has been recognized by the US as well by many European and Latin American countries as Venezuela's interim president, urged the global community to consider "all measures to free" the country.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said 25 February 2019 that military intervention no longer has a place in Latin America international politics. "The time for military interventions in Latin America has passed," Guterres said, adding that the region has a long democratic history "which makes authoritarian regimes no longer have a chance."

Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Amina Mohammed insisted 26 February 2019 on the need for the Venezuelan government and the opposition to negotiate, avoid politicizing humanitarian aid and to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. The United States has also called for a special Security Council meeting. "We encourage both parties to sit down at the negotiating table for the sake of Venezuelans and seek a peaceful resolution," Mohammed said as she was visiting Spain to promote the United Nations' Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Two Russian Air Force planes carrying a Russian defense official and nearly 100 troops and amounts of equipment landed in Venezuela's main airport on 23 March 2019. These were a Russian Air Force Antonov-124 cargo plane and a smaller jet, apparently an Ilyushin Il-62. The US government believed the troops include special forces and cybersecurity experts.

Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said 27 March 2019 "The Russian Federation develops its cooperation with Venezuela in strict compliance with the constitution of this country and with full respect to its legislative norms. Russian [military] specialists' presence on the territory of Venezuela is regulated by the defense cooperation agreement that the Russian and the Venezuelan governments signed in May 2001".

Donald Trump said Russia "has to get out" of Venezuela. The United States is not seeking to reach a military resolution of the crisis in Venezuela, US Acting Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan said in a congressional hearing on 26 March. "It's not my understanding", Shanahan said when asked whether the Trump administration intends to achieve a military resolution of the crisis in Venezuela.

The US president's National Security Advisor John Bolton warned countries "external to the Western Hemisphere" against deploying military forces in Venezuela in a statement made on 29 March 2019. He further underscored that the US would consider such military deployment to be provocations and "a direct threat to international peace and security in the region". "We strongly caution actors external to the Western Hemisphere against deploying military assets to Venezuela, or elsewhere in the Hemisphere, with the intent of establishing or expanding military operations", he said. He also accused Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro of trying to remain in power by using "Russian military personnel and equipment". Bolton further said that the US vows to continue protecting its interests in the Western Hemisphere.

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó stunned the nation 30 April 2019 when he appeared on a video at dawn surrounded by a few dozen national guardsmen urging troops to abandon Maduro and join those clamoring for the socialist leader’s ouster. While the call to action spurred protests around the nation, only a small group of soldiers left their commands. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed Maduro had an airplane “on the tarmac” Tuesday morning and was ready to flee but was dissuaded by “Russians.” By the end of the day, it was clear that a quick end to the protracted standoff was still out of sight. Amid the unrest, Maduro’s military commanders went on state television to proclaim their loyalty. Flanked by top generals, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López condemned Guaidó’s move as a “terrorist” act and “coup attempt” that was bound to fail like past uprisings. The opposition’s hoped for split in the military didn’t emerge, a plane that the United States claimed was standing by to ferry Maduro into exile never took off.

Three regime insiders backed out of a plan — allegedly at the last minute — to topple President Nicolas Maduro. Gen. Ivan Hernandez, head of both the presidential guard and military counterintelligence, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez. and Supreme Court Chief Justice Maikel Moreno chose to stick with Maduro at the moment of truth: when opposition leader Juan Guaido appeared 30 april 2019 surrounded by a small cadre of armed troops ready for what he said was the "final phase" of a Operation Freedom.

Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez said 02 May 2019 that he had been talking for weeks with military commanders while under house arrest. Elliott Abrams said there was even a document with the outlines of a transitional government that top officials had agreed to. "I am told the document is long —15 points, I think — and it talks of guarantees for the military, for a dignified exit for Maduro, and Guaido as interim president," he told Venezuelan online TV network VPItv. The three officials hadn't denied they were in talks with the opposition, but they reaffirmed their loyalty to Maduro and remained in their posts. A fourth, Gen. Manuel Figuera, head of the feared SEBIN intelligence agency, did break ranks and has since disappeared.

Maduro remained in power 03 May 2019, after opposition leader Juan Guaido’s failure to inspire mass military defections earlier in the week. There were no immediate reports of violence in the capital Caracas after several days of unrest and a call Thursday by Guaido for the start of staggered industrial action leading to a general strike. Maduro clung to power, calling on the country’s armed forces to oppose “any coup plotter” after Guaido failed to win defections from military leaders. At a televised event with the military high command, the embattled Maduro urged the military to “(K)eep morale high in this fight to disarm any traitor, any coup plotter.”

Maduro appealed to the military on state television. "We're not a weak country but one with strong armed forces that has to show itself as united and cohesive as ever. Say no to traitors! Out, traitors! Unity and supreme loyalty to the constitution, the fatherland, the revolution and to its legitimate commander-in-chief!" he said, asking soldiers to raise their weapons in the air.

Guaido said he thought more troops would turn against President Nicolas Maduro during Tuesday's attempt to oust the embattled leader. In an interview with The Washington Post, Guaido said he expected Maduro to step down following major defections of members of the military. But, as Maduro and Guaido were vying for military support, there were no mass breakaways in the ranks. Distrust between Trump administration officials and Maduro's inner circle contributed to top Maduro aides' reluctance to abandon the embattled Venezuelan leader.

A plot for some of Maduro's top aides to defect to the opposition appeared to have come apart at the last minute, according to several news reports. Weeks of secret talks between the top aides and opposition leaders — including recently freed Leopoldo Lopez — culminated in a document that guaranteed Maduro loyalists like Gen. Ivan Hernandez, chief of military counterintelligence; Defense Minister Vladamir Padrino Lopez; and Supreme Court Chief Justice Maikel Moreno places in a post-Maduro interim government and a promise that they wouldn't be prosecuted. All three officials have remained publicly loyal to Maduro. A fourth top aide, who heads Venezuela's intelligence agency, Gen. Manuel Figuera, did break ranks and had disappeared, and the Trump administration lifted sanctions against the director of Venezuela's intelligence service.

The Venezuelan Supreme Court said 07 May 2019 that seven opposition lawmakers should be investigated for a range of crimes, including treason and conspiracy. A short time later, the pro-government Constituent Assembly voted to strip the lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity.

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Page last modified: 08-05-2019 18:08:57 ZULU