Trump administration officials held secret meetings with Venezuelan military officers to discuss plans to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro, according to a report by the New York Times.
The news outlet said on Saturday that at least three distinct groups from the military were involved in attempts at overthrowing the Venezuelan leader.
According to the report, there were plans for a coup in the summer of 2017, and later in March and May of this year. However, when US officials declined to cooperate, plans for Maduro’s overthrow fell apart.
The report comes just a month after two explosive-laden drones blew up near Maduro in an apparent assassination attempt. He blamed the US, Colombia, and his domestic enemies for the attack.
On Saturday, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza denounced efforts to overthrow the government of the South American state.
“We denounce in front of the international community, the plans for intervention and the support of military plots against Venezuela by the United States government,” he said.
“Even in the US media, blatant evidence has come to light,” he added,
Denunciamos ante el mundo los planes de intervención y apoyo a conspiraciones militares del gobierno de los Estados Unidos contra Venezuela. En los propios medios estadounidenses salen a la luz nuevas y groseras evidencias: https://t.co/1vvuusfgrb
— Jorge Arreaza M (@jaarreaza) September 8, 2018
The US State Department condemned “political violence” after the drone assassination attempt, but also denounced alleged arbitrary detentions and forced confessions of suspects by the Venezuelan military.
US President Donald Trump has threatened military intervention against Venezuela before.
“The people are suffering and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary, ” Trump said in August 2017.
According to the New York Times report, the officials saw the declaration as an opportunity to establish a channel of communication with the Americans.
“It was the commander in chief saying this now,” a former Venezuelan commander said, “I’m not going to doubt it when this was the messenger.”
The report said the meetings between the coup plotters and American officials involved 11 current and former US officials and a former Venezuelan military commander sanctioned for corruption by the US government.
Other Venezuelan military officials cited in the report included those accused of collaborating with Colombian rebel group, FARC, which is considered a terrorist organisation in the US.
The White House did not respond to the New York Times report directly but did say it supported dialogue with Venezuelans who “demonstrate a desire for democracy.”
Maduro took power after Venezuela’s leftist leader and former military officer, Hugo Chavez, died in 2013.
His administration has faced political and economic challenges amid financial mismanagement and sliding oil prices.
Venezuela’s GDP has dropped by about 45 percent since Maduro took office and inflation is expected to rise to one million percent by the end of the year, according to the IMF.
The UN estimates that about 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled the country as a consequence of the economic crisis.