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Confirming US Orchestration, Report Details Pence's Key Phone Call to Venezuelan Opposition Leader

"The U.S. had been planning this coup in Venezuela. It was the Trump administration that told the little-known opposition leader Juan Guaidó to declare himself (unelected) 'president.'"

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at a meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS), on January 24, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

As U.S. lawmakers, civil society leaders, and Latin America experts continue to warn against American intervention in Venezuela's internal political affairs, the Wall Street Journal on Friday confirmed suspicions that opposition leader Juan Guaido's move to declare himself "interim president" of Venezuela this week was highly coordinated with the Trump White House and Republican lawmakers.

"The U.S. is not just 'behind' this coup; the U.S. is openly leading the coup."
—Ben Norton, The Real News

According to the Journal, Vice President Mike Pence called Guaido the night before his announcement and "pledged" that the Trump administration would support him "if he seized the reins of government from [elected President] Nicolas Maduro by invoking a clause in the South American country's constitution."

"That late-night call set in motion a plan that had been developed in secret over the preceding several weeks, accompanied by talks between U.S. officials, allies, lawmakers, and key Venezuelan opposition figures, including Mr. Guaido himself," the Journal reported, citing an anonymous administration official. "Almost instantly, just as Mr. Pence had promised, President Trump issued a statement recognizing Mr. Guaido as the country's rightful leader."

Guaido's move and U.S. President Donald Trump's rapid endorsement were quickly decried as a dangerous intervention—or the beginnings of a coup d'etat—which progressives argued would dramatically worsen the country's economic and political crisis. As Common Dreams reported, over 70 academics and experts signed an open letter demanding that the U.S. "cease encouraging violence by pushing for violent, extralegal regime change."

At the center of the push to oust Maduro and replace him with Guaido, the Journal reports, were some of the most hawkish congressional Republicans and members of Trump's cabinet, including national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), as well as officials from the right-wing governments of Brazil and Colombia.

According to the Journal, a "decisive moment" in the behind-the-scenes planning came on Tuesday, Jan. 22, when Trump met with top White House officials and Republican lawmakers the day before scheduled street protests by the opposition.

"Other officials who met that day at the White House included... Pompeo and Bolton, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who presented Mr. Trump with options for recognizing Mr. Guaido," the Journal reported. "Mr. Trump decided to do it. Mr. Pence, who wasn't at that meeting, placed his phone call to Mr. Guaido to tell him, 'If the National Assembly invoked Article 233 the following day, the president would back him.'"

Responding to the Journal's reporting on Friday, Ben Norton—reporter for The Real News—noted in a series of tweets that it is now clear the "U.S. is not just 'behind' this coup; the U.S. is openly leading the coup."

While the specifics of the attempt to oust Maduro were worked out behind the scenes, the Trump administration has never been quiet about its desire for regime change in Venezuela.

As Common Dreams reported, Trump declared in September that the Venezuelan government "could be toppled very quickly" and warned that "all options are on the table" with regard to U.S. actions in the country.

"The strong ones and the less than strong ones, and you know what I mean by strong. Every option is on the table with respect to Venezuela," Trump said.

The president and Pompeo both reiterated this warning on Wednesday, with the secretary of state threatening "appropriate actions" if the Venezuelan military does not protect U.S. diplomats, who Maduro has ordered to leave the country.

Progressive organizations, lawmakers, and advocacy groups in the U.S. have denounced the Trump administration's decision to recognize Guaido, arguing that American interference only increases the likelihood of violence and demanding peaceful negotiations.

In a statement on Friday, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) argued that "[b]oth the increasingly top-down Venezuelan government as well as the fractious Venezuelan opposition, which has at times resorted to anti-democratic methods, bear significant responsibility for the current crisis and there are important critiques to be leveled against both."

The organization concluded by calling on "the U.S. government to immediately cease and desist all attempts to intervene in the internal politics of Venezuela and break with its shameful legacy of imperial control in the region."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) echoed this demand in a series of tweets late Thursday, highlighting the United States' "long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries" and declaring that "we must not go down that road again."

"The Maduro government in Venezuela has been waging a violent crackdown on Venezuelan civil society, violated the constitution by dissolving the National Assembly, and was re-elected last year in an election that many observers said was fraudulent," Sanders wrote. "But we must learn the lessons of the past and not be in the business of regime change or supporting coups."

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