President Nicolas Maduro urged his armed forces Wednesday to be on guard following news reports in the United States that a year ago President Donald Trump raised the possibility of invading Venezuela.
"You cannot lower you guard for even a second because we will defend the greatest right our homeland has had in all of its history," Maduro said at a military ceremony, "which is to live in peace." He alluded to reports in the U.S. press that said last August Trump asked foreign policy advisers about the possibility of invading Venezuela, which the Trump administration has derided as a corrupt, left-wing dictatorship.
Maduro said these reports back up his assertion that the United States is planning a military attack against Venezuela to seize its vast oil reserves. Maduro said Trump's question to his advisers came after Venezuelan opposition figures visited the White House. "Is this a coincidence? No, it is not a coincidence," Maduro said.
As a meeting last August in the Oval Office to discuss sanctions on Venezuela was concluding, President Donald Trump turned to his top aides and asked an unsettling question: With a fast unraveling Venezuela threatening regional security, why can't the U.S. just simply invade the troubled country? The suggestion stunned those present at the meeting, including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, both of whom have since left the administration. This account of the previously undisclosed conversation comes from a senior administration official familiar with what was said.
In an exchange that l
asted around five minutes, McMaster and others took turns explaining to Trump how military action could backfire and risk losing hard-won support among Latin American governments to punish President Maduro for taking Venezuela down the path of dictatorship, according to the official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions. But Trump pushed back. Although he gave no indication he was about to order up military plans, he pointed to what he considered past cases of successful gunboat diplomacy in the region, according to the official, like the invasions of Panama and Grenada in the 1980s. The idea, despite his aides' best attempts to shoot it down, would nonetheless persist in the president's head.
The next day, Aug. 11, Trump alarmed friends and foes alike with talk of a "military option" to remove Maduro from power. The public remarks were initially dismissed in U.S. policy circles as the sort of martial bluster people have come to expect from the reality TV star turned commander in chief.
But shortly afterward, he raised the issue with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, according to the U.S. official. Two high-ranking Colombian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing Trump confirmed the report.
Then in September, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Trump discussed it again, this time at greater length, in a private dinner with leaders from four Latin American allies that included Santos, the same three people said and Politico reported in February.
The U.S. official said Trump was specifically briefed not to raise the issue and told it wouldn't play well, but the first thing the president said at the dinner was, "My staff told me not to say this." Trump then went around asking each leader if they were sure they didn't want a military solution, according to the official, who added that each leader told Trump in clear terms they were sure. Eventually, McMaster would pull aside the president and walk him through the dangers of an invasion, the official said.