Trump administration reportedly courting dissident Venezuelan military officers to potentially oust Maduro

Juan Barreto | AFP | Getty Images
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivers a speech during a ceremony to celebrate the 81st anniversary of the National Guard in Caracas on August 4, 2018. Maduro was unharmed after an exploding drone 'attack', the minister of communication Jorge Rodriguez said following an incident that saw uniformed military members break ranks and scatter after a loud bang interrupted the leader's remarks and caused him to look to the sky, according to images broadcast on state television.

The Trump administration has held clandestine talks with rebellious military officers from Venezuela, The New York Times reported on Saturday, suggesting the U.S. is seeking to foment an overthrow of President Nicolas Maduro's government, or support elements within the country that will.

Administration officials who participated in the discussions told The Times that the endeavor was a foreign policy gamble for Washington.

The U.S.'s checkered history of foreign interventions, and its embrace of anti-Communist governments in Latin America that ultimately resulted in the rise of dictatorships, are said to be playing a role in the administration's reluctance to get involved deeply with anti-Maduro forces. However, as Venezuela's condition has grown increasingly dire – with spillover effects within the region – the calculus in Washington may be shifting.

The Trump administration has been open to speaking to mutinous Venezuelan officials who might be able to pressure or even topple Maduro, the publication reported. Since 2017, rebel officers have been meeting with at least one U.S. diplomat to discuss taking action against Caracas, but were "frustrated" by the lack of follow through, The Times added.

Last year, President Donald Trump hinted at the potential for military intervention, a course of action that's been hinted at by a few GOP foreign policy hawks. Most notably, Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio has become increasingly vocal about Venezuela's deterioration, and the Maduro government's squelching of dissent in the country.

"The circumstances have changed," Rubio told a Univision affiliate in Miami during a recent Spanish-language interview.

"For months and years, I wanted the solution in Venezuela to be a non-military and peaceful solution, simply to restore democracy," Rubio said, basing his shift toward a military option on national security grounds. "There is a national assembly elected by the people that has been annulled by a dictatorship."

The White House declined to respond to The Times' questions about the talks, but said in a statement that it was important to engage in "dialogue with all Venezuelans who demonstrate a desire for democracy" in order to "bring positive change to a country that has suffered so much under Maduro."

With his country roiled by hunger, disease and a full-fledged societal breakdown, Maduro has become increasingly isolated in Latin America. Last month, the embattled leader survived what appeared to be an assassination attempt that he blamed on a plot by dissidents in Colombia and the United States.

At the time, Maduro declared that "everything points" to its Andean neighbor and the U.S. state of Florida, where many Venezuelan exiles live. Several perpetrators were caught, he said, without elaborating.

The White House and Rubio's office did not respond to CNBC's request for comment.

The full New York Times article can be found on its website.

--Reuters contributed to this article.

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