In an effort to encourage defections from Venezuela's elected President Nicolas Maduro, the Trump administration is reportedly holding secret talks with members of the Venezuelan military as top U.S. cabinet officials continue to issue aggressive threats and push for regime change.
According to Reuters, which cited an anonymous senior White House official, the U.S. "is holding direct communications with members of Venezuela's military urging them to abandon President Nicolas Maduro and is also preparing new sanctions aimed at increasing pressure on him."
"The Trump administration expects further military defections from Maduro's side," Reuters reported, "despite only a few senior officers having done so since opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president last month, earning the recognition of the United States and dozens of other countries."
As Common Dreams reported, Guaido's move to declare himself "interim president"—which was denounced by experts and activists as the beginnings of a possible coup—was highly coordinated with the Trump White House, which vowed ahead of time to back the opposition leader in his attempt to seize power.
In an interview with Reuters, the anonymous Trump official said the White House believes the few officers who have defected from Maduro are the "first couple pebbles before we start really seeing bigger rocks rolling down the hill."
News that the Trump administration is holding direct talks with members of the Venezuelan military comes after Venezuelan government officials said they discovered a crate of weapons and ammunition delivered by a U.S.-based plane this week to an airport in the city of Valencia.
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Venezuela's vice minister of citizen security said the weapons shipment was "destined for criminal groups and terrorist actions in the country, financed by the fascist extreme right and the government of the United States."
With hawkish Trump White House officials like national security adviser John Bolton continuing to warn that U.S. military intervention in Venezuela remains "on the table," Maduro published an open letter to the American public urging opposition to "warmongering and war."
"I say this to the people of the United States of America to warn them of the serious and dangerous intent that factions in the White House have for invading Venezuela, which would have unforeseeable consequences for my nation and for all of the Americas," Maduro wrote.
"The people of the United States should know that this complex, multi-form aggression is being carried out with total impunity and in flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter, which expressly forbids the threat or use of force, among other principles and resolutions in the pursuit of peace and relations of friendship amongst nations," he added.
While criticizing Maduro for his crackdown on protesters and other abuses, progressive lawmakers in the U.S. have denounced the Trump administration's interference in Venezuela's internal political affairs.
"We must condemn the use of violence against unarmed protesters and the suppression of dissent," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote last month. "However, we must learn the lessons of the past and not be in the business of regime change or supporting coups—as we have in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic."