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Is Venezuela Closer to Dethroning Maduro?

A secret meeting between US officials and a top Venezuelan power broker yields as many questions as answers.

The chaos in Venezuela as the regime of Nicolas Maduro crumbles slowly has fallen out of the headlines lately, but the troubles in the country are still real and still dangerous.

The state of play right now in Venezuela is that opposition leader Juan Guaidó – whom the United States and others recognize as the legitimate leader of the country – can’t win the hearts of the military to dethrone Maduro, yet Maduro doesn’t have enough support and traction to do anything about Guaidó.

So is Venezuela any closer to deposing Maduro and installing a free-market system where the people have a voice? If recent talks between American officials and a powerful man in Venezuela are any indication, it’s possible. However, the lack of details of the meeting leave as many questions as they do answers.

The Associated Press is reporting that the US has met secretly with Diosdado Cabello, who is considered to be second to Maduro in power in Venezuela. (I can’t help but think that this meeting isn’t so secret if the AP knows about it, but I digress.)

The AP report includes plenty of people who have spoken on the promise on anonymity, and the accounts of these meetings are scant on details.

Similar contacts exist with other top Venezuelan insiders, the official said, and the U.S. is in a listening mode to hear 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 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.

One fact from the report that isn’t in dispute is that Cabello and other high ranking officials in Venezuela want to ensure that they won’t face retribution if they step back and allow Maduro to collapse. The US is also clear that they don’t want to prop up a socialist like Cabello.

Cabello also has a reputation as a shady character with links to the nasty South American drug trade and rumors of his involvement in an attempt to assassinate Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).

If Cabello is such an unsavory character, why would we reach out to him “secretly”? Because, as the AP has pointed out, Cabello and others are willing to trash Maduro behind his back, even as they defer to him in public.

It’s not clear who initiated the contact with Cabello. But the U.S. official said Cabello was talking behind the back of the embattled socialist despite his almost daily displays of loyalty and frequent harangues against President Donald Trump.

An opposition politician briefed on the outreach said Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino and Interior Minister Néstor Reverol are among those in indirect contact with the Americans, underscoring the degree to which Maduro is surrounded by conspirators even after an opposition-led military uprising in April was easily quashed. 

Is there hope that Venezuela can make a turn away from the horrific years of Maduro and Hugo Chávez? Again, the details are too scant as of now to know for sure, but there’s optimism that freedom for the Venezuelan people could be on the horizon. Let’s all hope and pray for it.

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