Venezuelan number two Diosdado Cabello ‘in secret talks with US’, Trump administration official claims
- July 3, 2020
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A senior Trump administration official has claimed that Washington is engaged in secret talks with Diosdado Cabello, the number two in the Venezuelan regime and the man regarded by many as the true power behind Nicolas Maduro’s throne.
Mr Cabello met a US intermediary in Caracas in July and a second meeting is planned, the official told the Associated Press. The alleged contacts form part of an attempt by the US to penetrate Mr Maduro’s inner circle and foment the collapse of his government from the inside, by offering key allies the necessary guarantees to abandon the increasingly embattled and isolated leader.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the US would not facilitate Mr Cabello remaining in power or replacing Mr Maduro. Instead it is hoped that those close to Hugo Chávez’s appointed successor might be persuaded to betray him if they are guaranteed immunity from prosecution for alleged abuses and crimes.
That goal had appeared close to being achieved at the end of April, when opposition leader Juan Guaidó – recognized by the US and dozens of other countries as Venezuela’s rightful president – launched an uprising supported by military defectors.
In the chaos that followed, US National Security Adviser John Bolton publicly identified three key Maduro allies – General Vladimir Padrino López, the defence minister, and the heads of the supreme court and the presidential guard – as having conspired with the opposition against the far-Left leader.
He urged them to act quickly, saying it was their "last chance" to have sanctions against them removed by bringing the rest of the military behind Mr Guaidó.
But Mr Bolton had spoken too soon, as Mr Maduro’s generals rallied around him and crushed the rebellion in a bloody crackdown, Gen. Padrino publicly denouncing an attempt to "buy" him with a "deceitful, stupid offer". Manuel Cristopher Figuera, the chief of intelligence agency SEBIN, fled the country, later surfacing in the US with an account of how Gen. Padrino and the other alleged co-conspirators had lost their nerve. He was replaced with a former intelligence chief close to Mr Cabello – an appointment widely interpreted as a sign that the latter’s influence was expanding as Mr Maduro’s waned.
The support of Mr Cabello, the 56-year-old power broker alleged to have controlling fingers in rackets from drug-trafficking to illegal mining and to direct pro-government paramilitary groups, is now regarded by many as the key to the survival or fall of Mr Maduro. Vice-president of the ruling PSUV and head of the constituent assembly installed to bypass the opposition-controlled parliament, Mr Cabello is a shadowy, Machiavellian figure considered more radical, ruthless and calculating than Mr Maduro himself. As well as slapping him with heavy sanctions over the corruption and abuse allegations, US officials have also accused him of discussing an assassination plot against Florida senator Marco Rubio, who described Mr Cabello as the "Pablo Escobar" of Venezuela. Mr Cabello denies all such claims.
Last week, Mr Rubio told the Miami paper El Nuevo Herald that he had "no doubt" Mr Cabello had always wanted to be president and that if he succeeded in gaining control of the regime apparatus he would use his leadership of the constituent assembly to oust Mr Maduro.
Mr Maduro was "surrounded by people who want to remove him to put one of themselves in power", Mr Rubio said – not in the interests of democracy but in order to "maintain their privileges".
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The Trump administration official told the AP that Mr Cabello was not the only insider the US was in contact with, while an opposition politician suggested that Gen. Padrino and Mr Maduro’s interior minister, Nestor Reverol, were also involved in discussions.
Mr Cabello has not commented on the reported talks, though an aide told AP that he would only speak to the US if it was with the knowledge of Mr Maduro and with the aim of securing the removal of crippling economic sanctions. But he did retweet a post mocking the idea that the US would expose its own "secret plan".
The US official suggested that Washington was trying to stoke the infighting it believed could bring down the Maduro regime – an aim that could explain this latest public gambit.