If you haven’t been following what’s going on in Venezuela, socialist President Maduro is facing pressure from political opposition after their leader, Juan Guaidó, declared himself the leader of the country.
To catch you up:
“Venezuela’s government is embroiled in a power struggle after Guaidó declared President Nicolás Maduro illegitimate last week under a provision of the nation’s Constitution. The Trump administration has recognized Guaidó as the leader of the country.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Guaidó received assurances from Vice President Pence that the Trump administration would back his coup. But Maduro isn’t backing down and has balked at scheduling new elections.
The Trump administration put more pressure on Maduro today, freezing around $7 billion in Venezuelan oil assets and imposing new sanctions on Citgo, the country’s state-owned oil company.
But it seems sanctions weren’t enough for Trump’s notoriously hawkish National Security Advisor (and Iraq War cheerleader) John Bolton. At a press briefing today, Bolton said all options were “on the table” when it comes to dealing developing crisis, including troops on the ground. While some sought to quell concerns that this might mean Trump was planning on invading the South American country—a tactic Trump reportedly pressed his former National Security advisor on—John Bolton’s notepad seemed to give the game away.
Two lines of text were visible On Bolton’s notebook in press photos. The second line read “5,000 troops to Colombia,” a U.S. ally bordering Venezuela whose government has also recognized Maduro’s opponent as the interim leader of Venezuela.
So this notepad that National Security Advisor John Bolton was holding today at the White House briefing on Venezuela says:
"Afghanistan -> Welcome the Talks. 5,000 troops to Colombia."
— Rao Komar (@RaoKomar747) January 28, 2019
At first, many people assumed this was just another unforced error by another incompetent Trump flunky.
Trump is pulling us back from the Middle East so he can invade South America. Cool cool… https://t.co/yD7AxcQ41s
— Adam Blickstein (@AdamBlickstein) January 28, 2019
Yes, everyone keep telling us to chill out about the all options are on the table language…. https://t.co/weUx6EU4ey
— Tommy Vietor (@TVietor08) January 28, 2019
But others raised the possibility it was a deliberate shot across the bow aimed at putting more pressure on Maduro without explicitly threatening him.
— Joshua Goodman (@APjoshgoodman) January 28, 2019
Bolton flashes a pad marked "5,000 troops to Colombia" – did he inadvertently reveal plans to escalate or is it just psy-ops? https://t.co/gUKsidW1N5
— Martin Hodgson (@MartinxHodgson) January 28, 2019
So maybe it was a very stupid mistake and maybe it was a ham-handed threat. Either way, it seems like it’s only going to exacerbate tensions. If Maduro thinks the U.S. is planning an invasion, he might preemptively crack down on the opposition. It’s entirely possible the “slip” was designed to elicit a violent response from Maduro to provide a justification for the Trump administration to invade.
It’s not the only signal Trump is taking a more hawkish stance on Venezuela, either. Last week Elliott Abrams, a former Reagan and George W. Bush administration official, was named as a special envoy for Venezuela. Abrams was involved in backing the Contras in Nicaragua (you know from the Iran-Contra scandal) during the Reagan administration and (allegedly) supported a military coup against Venezuela’s socialist president Hugo Chavez in 2002.
So we’ve got a couple neo-conservative hawks from the George W. Bush administration in charge of U.S. policy regarding an oil-rich country whose leader we declared illegitimate, and one of them seems to have plans to invade.
What could go wrong?
h/t: NBC News