Source Says U.S. Secretly Talks to Venezuela Socialist Boss

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), August 19, 2019 | Go to article overview

Source Says U.S. Secretly Talks to Venezuela Socialist Boss


Byline: Joshua Goodman Associated Press

BOGOTA, Colombia -- The United States has opened up secret communications with Venezuela's socialist party boss as members of President Nicolás Maduro's inner circle seek guarantees they won't face retribution if they cede to growing demands to remove him, a senior U.S. administration official has told The Associated Press.

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 said. 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 United States 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 listening for 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 that 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 affairs publicly.

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. …

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