Officials from President Donald Trump's administration met secretly with Venezuelan military officers to discuss plans to oust President Nicolas Maduro but eventually decided not to help, The New York Times reported Saturday.
Trump has been harshly critical of Maduro's leftist regime, as Venezuela has spiraled downward into a grave economic and humanitarian crisis that has sparked violent protests and prompted a wave of emigration into nearby countries.
The Times, citing unnamed American officials and a former Venezuelan military commander who took part in the secret talks, said the coup plans stalled.
It quoted the White House as declining to provide detailed answers when asked about the talks, but stressing the need for "dialogue with all Venezuelans who demonstrate a desire for democracy."
After explosives-laden drones allegedly blew up near Maduro at an August 4 event in Caracas -- he blamed the U.S., Colombia and his domestic enemies -- the State Department condemned the "political violence" but also denounced what it said were the arbitrary detentions and forced confessions of suspects.
U.S. national security advisor John Bolton insisted there was "no U.S. government involvement" in the incident.
In August 2017, media reports said Trump asked top advisors about the potential for a U.S. invasion of Venezuela. Around the same time, he said publicly that he would not rule out a "military option" to end the chaos there.
The collapse of Venezuela's oil-based economy under the increasingly authoritarian Maduro has led to dire shortages of food and medicine.
Maduro has angrily blamed the U.S. for many of his problems. The idea that the Trump administration might have even considered backing a coup attempt seems sure to fuel such charges.
Mari Carmen Aponte, who was a top U.S. diplomat for Latin American affairs in the Obama administration, told the Times that "this is going to land like a bomb" in the region.
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