U.S. officials met secretly with members of Venezuela’s military last year to discuss a coup plot against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, officials said.
White House officials said it was important to engage in “dialogue with all Venezuelans who demonstrate a desire for democracy” in order to “bring positive change to a country that has suffered so much under Maduro” The New York Times first reported Saturday.
U.S. officials’ meetings with the Venezuelans occurred several times over the last year, but American officials did not provide the officers with any support and the coup effort ultimately fell apart, CNN reported.
A Venezuelan military commander involved in the secret talks is on the U.S. government’s sanctions list of corrupt officials in Venezuela, the Times reported. He and other Venezuelan security members are accused of crimes including torturing critics, jailing hundreds of political prisoners, wounding thousands of civilians, trafficking drugs and collaborating with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, or FARC, which the United States considers a terrorist organization.
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U.S.-Venezuelan relations have been strained for years. The countries’ ambassadors have not had an exchange since 2010. Since President Donald Trump took office, he has increased sanctions against top Venezuelan officials including Maduro.
The United States has taken a strong stance against Venezuela as the country faces a humanitarian crisis with food and medical shortages, resulting in an exodus of refugees escaping to neighboring countries.
Trump told CNN last year that he would not “rule out a military option.”
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Tension has increased with what the Venezuelan government describes as a failed assassination attempt against Maduro last month.
Venezuelan authorities arrested a military general and colonel and a dozen others in connection to the incident, which included an explosion near Maduro as he gave a speech Aug. 4. The president was not hurt, but seven soldiers were injured.
Two U.S. officials have said the United States had no involvement in failed assassination attempt.