The removal of Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro is apparently the reason behind a series of clandestine talks between the Trump administration and the second most powerful man in the country, the socialist party el gran jefe, Diosdado Cabello. At a distance, it would appear to be business as usual – diplomatic talks amidst a collapsed economy and increased tightening of US sanctions.
Cabello has been previously tagged by some US government officials as being a part of the massive corruption in his country contributing to the economic crisis, a drug trafficking kingpin who supposedly threatened to assassinate a United States senator. Those allegations alone should raise red flags. But to complicate things even more, Maduro and Cabello are simpatico, and no breach of trust is likely to be initiated.
Remove the Problem
Venezuela under the Maduro regime is a global disgrace – but his mantle of economic and political chaos is decades in the making. Years of socialist government, corruption, drugs – all have contributed to driving Latin America’s most prosperous countries to ruin starting with the reign of Hugo Chavez in 1999. His brand of socialism was a toxic cocktail of subsidies and price controls on oil exportation that simply crushed a once rich and thriving nation.
Before his death, Chavez hand-picked Nicolas Maduro – who simply made conditions much worse. The Trump administration has made it clear that Maduro needs to go. It’s just a question of how.
Enter loyal follower of Maduro, Cabello, the man with a mysterious and sketchy reputation. As head of the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), a government group claiming “supreme power in Venezuela,” Cabello can remove, at will, the president. It’s a heady position that requires ensconcing a loyal follower to remain in power. The US considers the ANC an unlawful body simply enacted to protect the sitting regime – as a rubber-stamping foil to the opposition-controlled government. But the loophole left unprotected may allow for one friend to turn against the other.
Oops. The Trump administration may be hoping to challenge that fealty to head-of-state, and it is rumored that negotiations are taking place with the Venezuelan bad boy to unseat his leader.
A calculated gambit with a heavy downside risk, at least according to Fernando Cutz, a former senior national security adviser on Latin America to both Presidents Barack Obama and Trump:
“Cabello is one of the worst of the worst inside of Venezuela. If the strategy is to try to negotiate with the mafia boss, he’s your guy. But that’s a strategy that carries some heavy risks.”
But that’s exactly how you get to the bigger fish – turn middle management to seeking ultimate power and control.
If Cabello wants the whole enchilada, he has the power to make Maduro disappear.
Does the Trump administration believe that a good faith negation to remove Maduro from power with the man who discussed a scheme to snuff out Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) for the insult of calling him “Venezuela’s Pablo Escobar” is a good idea?
To date, Venezuela’s second most powerful man has shown only loyalty to the man and the government that would be toppled. Recently, he appeared on state television to reassure his allegiance to his president:
“A fraternal salute, brother President. We have no secrets, no lies here. Every time we do something we will inform the people, so that with a clear conscience they can take informed decisions and fix positions.”
Is he playing Trump or betraying his president?