US, Venezuela Socialist Boss Talk 08/19 06:18
The U.S. has made secret contact with Venezuela's socialist party boss as
close allies of President Nicols Maduro's inner circle seek guarantees they
won't face prosecution for alleged abuses and crimes if they cede to growing
demands to remove him, according to a senior Trump administration official.
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- The U.S. has made secret contact with Venezuela's
socialist party boss as close allies of President Nicols Maduro's inner circle
seek guarantees they won't face prosecution for alleged abuses and crimes if
they cede to growing demands to remove him, according to a senior Trump
Diosdado Cabello, who is considered the most-powerful man in Venezuela after
Maduro, met last month in Caracas with someone who is in close contact with the
Trump administration, the official told The Associated Press. A second meeting
is in the works but has not yet taken place.
The AP is withholding the intermediary's name and details of the encounter
with Cabello out of concern the person could suffer reprisals. The official
spoke on the condition of anonymity because they aren't authorized to discuss
the talks, which are still preliminary. It's not clear whether the talks have
Maduro's approval or not.
Cabello, 56, is a major power broker inside Venezuela, who has seen his
influence in the government and security forces expand as Maduro's grip on
power has weakened. But he's also been accused by U.S. officials of being
behind massive corruption, drug trafficking and even death threats against a
sitting U.S. senator.
The administration official said that under no circumstances is the U.S.
looking to prop up Cabello or pave the way for him to substitute Maduro.
Instead, the goal of the outreach is to ratchet up pressure on the regime by
contributing to the knife fight the U.S. believes is taking place behind the
scenes among competing circles of power within the ruling party.
Similar contacts exist with other top Venezuelan insiders, the official
said, and the U.S. is in a listening mode to hear what it would take for them
to betray Maduro and support a transition plan.
Cabello did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But an aide said the U.S. has been increasingly knocking on his door,
desperately looking to establish contact. The aide rejected the notion Cabello
was somehow betraying Maduro, saying that Cabello would only meet with
Americans with the president's permission and if it contributes to lifting
sanctions he blames for crippling the oil-dependent economy. The aide spoke on
the condition of anonymity because he isn't authorized to discuss political
A person familiar with the July encounter said Cabello appeared savvy and
arrived to the meeting with the U.S.-backed envoy well prepared, with a clear
understanding of Venezuela's political problems. The person spoke on the
condition of anonymity because they aren't authorized to discuss the matter.
As Venezuela's crisis grinds on, a predictable pattern has emerged where
Juan Guaid, who the U.S. and dozens of other countries recognize as
Venezuela's rightful leader, has been unable to woo the military and take power
but Maduro lacks enough strength to apprehend his rival or rescue the collapsed
economy amid ever-tightening U.S. sanctions. This month, the U.S. slapped a new
round of sanctions that seizes all of the Maduro government's assets in the
U.S. and threatens to punish companies from third countries that continue to do
business with him.
Talks sponsored by Norway between the opposition and government have been
slow-going and were suspended this month by Maduro, who accused Guaid of
celebrating the U.S.' "brutal blockade." Neither Cabello, the Venezuelan
military or U.S. government are a party to those talks.
To break the stalemate, some conspirators are looking to the U.S. to devise
a plan to protect government insiders who turn against Maduro from future
prosecution. The U.S. has repeatedly said it would offer top socialists relief
from sanctions if they take "concrete and meaningful actions" to end Maduro's
rule. In May, it quickly lifted sanctions against Maduro's former spy chief,
Gen. Manuel Cristopher Figuera, after he defected during a failed military
As head of the constitutional assembly, Cabello has the power to remove
Maduro, a position that could come in handy in any negotiated transition. But
to date he's run the institution, which the U.S. considers illegitimate, as a
rubber-stamping foil to the opposition-controlled congress, showing no signs of
It's not clear who initiated the contact with Cabello. But the U.S. official
said Cabello was talking behind the back of the embattled socialist despite his
almost daily displays of loyalty and frequent harangues against President
An opposition politician briefed on the outreach said Defense Minister
Vladimir Padrino and Interior Minister Nstor Reverol are among those in
indirect contact with the Americans, underscoring the degree to which Maduro is
surrounded by conspirators even after an opposition-led military uprising in
April was easily quashed. The politician spoke on the condition of anonymity
because they aren't authorized to discuss the talks. The AP was unable to
verify the opposition politician's account.
Cabello has long been seen as a rival to Maduro, someone who has more
pragmatic economic views and is less ideologically aligned with communist Cuba.
He sat to the right of Hugo Chvez when the late socialist designated Maduro,
to his left, to be his successor in his last public appearance before dying of
cancer in 2013.
By all accounts Cabello was not among the high-placed officials who were in
on a plot to remove Maduro in April, when Guaid and his mentor Leopoldo Lpez
appeared on a bridge in eastern Caracas surrounded by a small contingent of
armed troops. Since the uprising's failure, the retired army lieutenant has
seen his influence in the government and security forces expand, with the
appointment of close allies to head the army and the feared SEBIN intelligence
He also remains popular with the Chavista base, having crisscrossed the
country the past five years with a much-watched program on state TV that is a
vehicle for pounding the opposition and U.S.
"A fraternal salute, brother President," Cabello said in the most-recent
program, where Maduro called in as a special guest. "We have no secrets, no
lies here. Every time we do something we will inform the people, so that with a
clear conscience they can take informed decisions and fix positions."
The U.S. has tried to negotiate with Cabello before. In 2015, Thomas
Shannon, who was then counsellor to Secretary of State John Kerry, met with
Cabello in Haiti to pave the way for legislative elections that the opposition
won by a landslide.
But until now, the Trump administration has shown deep scorn for Cabello,
hitting him with sanctions last year for allegedly organizing drug shipments
and running a major graft network that embezzled state funds and invested the
stolen proceeds in Florida real estate. The U.S. also believes he discussed a
plot to kill Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who has called him
"Venezuela's Pablo Escobar."
"Cabello is one of the worst of the worst inside of Venezuela," said
Fernando Cutz, a former senior national security adviser on Latin America to
both President Barack Obama and Trump. "If the strategy is to try to negotiate
with the mafia boss, he's your guy. But that's a strategy that carries some