Venezuela's foreign minister accused the United States of seeking an intervention and supporting military conspiracies, following a report U.S. officials had met with Venezuelan military officers to discuss a coup plot.
The Trump administration held secret meetings with rebellious military officers over the last year to discuss their plans to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro, the New York Times (NYT) reported on Saturday.
The article cited unnamed American officials and a former Venezuelan military commander who participated in the talks. The NYT also said the coup plans stalled after secret talks.
"We denounce the intervention plans and support for military conspirators by the government of the United States against Venezuela," Jorge Arreaza wrote on Twitter on Saturday, as reported by Reuters. "Even in U.S. media, the crass evidence is coming to light."
Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the National Security Council, did not deny the report, but said in a statement that the "U.S. policy preference for a peaceful, orderly return to democracy in Venezuela remains unchanged."
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. Citizens are increasingly seeking refuge in nearby countries including Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
After explosive-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 Adviser 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 US 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. Diplomatic relations between Venezuela and the United States have been tense since late former socialist President Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999. He was president until his death in 2013. Both Chavez and Maduro, his successor, have accused Washington of dozens of alleged conspiracies and assassination attempts.
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 under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, told the NYT that "this is going to land like a bomb" in the region.