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Maduro warns Venezuela army over Trump's 'invasion' plans

Behind-the-scene talks reveal how Trump intended to take advantage of Venezuela's crisis to invade the country.

President Nicolas Maduro

President Nicolas Maduro has urged his armed forces to be on guard following news reports in the United States that a year ago US President Donald Trump raised the possibility of invading Venezuela.

"You cannot lower you guard for even a second, because we will defend the greatest right our homeland has had in all of its history, which is to live in peace," Maduro said at a military ceremony on Wednesday.

He alluded to reports in the US press which said that last August, Trump asked foreign policy advisers about the possibility of invading Venezuela, which the Trump administration has derided as a corrupt, left-wing dictatorship.

In the oval office during a meeting about sanctions the US has imposed on oil rich Venezuela, Trump turned to his top aides and asked: With a fast unraveling Venezuela threatening regional security, why can't the US just simply invade the troubled country?

The suggestion stunned those present at the meeting, including former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former National Security Adviser HR McMaster, both of whom have since left the administration.

Trump's advisers said no, as did Latin American leaders with whom Trump also raised the idea, according to the American network CNN.

This account of the previously undisclosed conversation comes from a senior administration official familiar with what was said, who spoke anonymously due to the sensitive nature of the discussions. 

Maduro said these reports back up his long-standing assertion that the US is planning a military attack against Venezuela to seize its vast oil reserves.

He called on troops to remain vigilant, criticising what he called the "supremacist and criminal vision of those who govern the US".

"A military intervention on the part of the US Empire will never be a solution to Venezuela's problems," Maduro said.

Even some of the staunchest US allies were begrudgingly forced to side with Maduro in condemning Trump's saber rattling.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, a big backer of US attempts to isolate Maduro, said an invasion would have zero support in the region. 

A 'military option' to remove Maduro

Despite rejections of his idea by his top aides, Trump pushed back. Although he gave no indication he was about to order up military plans, he pointed to what he considered past cases of successful gunboat diplomacy in the region, according to the official, like the invasions of Panama and Grenada in the 1980s.

Trump's idea, despite his aides' best attempts to shoot it down, would nonetheless persist in the president's head.

The next day, on August 11, Trump alarmed friends and foes alike with talk of a "military option" to remove Maduro from power.

The public remarks were initially dismissed in US policy circles as the sort of martial bluster people have come to expect from the reality TV star turned commander in chief. 

But shortly afterward, he raised the issue with Santos, according to the US official. Two high-ranking Colombian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid antagonising Trump confirmed the report.

Then in September, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Trump discussed it again, this time at greater length, in a private dinner with leaders from four Latin American allies that included Santos, according to the same three anonymous sources and Politico news website which reported on the story in February.

The US official said Trump was specifically briefed not to raise the issue and told it wouldn't play well, but the first thing the president said at the dinner was, "My staff told me not to say this."

Trump then went around asking each leader if they were sure they didn't want a military solution, according to the official, who added that each leader told Trump in clear terms they were sure.

Eventually, McMaster would pull aside the president and walk him through the dangers of an invasion, the official said.

Taken together, the behind-the-scenes talks, the extent and details of which have not been previously reported, highlight how Venezuela's political and economic crisis has received top attention under Trump in a way that was unimaginable in the Barack Obama administration. 

But critics say it also underscores how his "America First" foreign policy at times can seem outright reckless, providing ammunition to America's adversaries.

The White House declined to comment on the private conversations. But a National Security Council spokesman reiterated that the US will consider all options at its disposal to help restore Venezuela's democracy and bring stability.

Under Trump's leadership, the US, Canada and European Union have levied sanctions on dozens of top Venezuelan officials, including Maduro himself, over allegations of corruption, drug trafficking and human rights abuses.

The US has also distributed more than $30m to help Venezuela's neighbours absorb an influx of more than 1 million migrants who have fled the country.


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