Trump administration officials maintained Monday that “all options” ― including the use of military force ― are on the table concerning its attempts to remove Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from power. And if National Security Adviser John Bolton’s notebook is to be believed, deploying troops to the region may be closer to reality than not.
During a White House press briefing meant to detail new sanctions on Maduro and Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Bolton was photographed holding a yellow legal pad that read, “5,000 troops to Colombia,” a country sharing a border with Venezuela.
The potential security breach was quickly spotted by observers on Twitter after an Associated Press picture from the briefing was published atop stories at NBC and other outlets.
“As the president has said, all options are on the table,” a White House spokesperson said when asked if sending troops to Colombia was under consideration.
An unnamed U.S. official said they had not seen anything to support Bolton’s notes, a Reuters reporter tweeted.
The Trump administration took its most aggressive steps to help topple Maduro from office last week when it officially recognized Venezuelan National Assembly leader Juan Guaido as the country’s interim president, just hours after Guaido swore himself into the office.
Guaido leads a multi-party opposition effort to Maduro, who won a disputed election in May 2018 that his Venezuelan opponents and other nations, including the U.S. and several Latin American democracies, considered illegitimate. Large protests in Venezuela have bolstered the push to remove Maduro, whose time in office has included authoritarian crackdowns on political foes and an economic crisis driven in part by a collapse in global oil prices.
The U.S. announcement of new sanctions followed Maduro’s refusal to cede his post to Guaido in the face of pressure from the White House. The Trump administration hopes the additional economic penalties targeting Maduro’s government and the state-owned oil company will bolster their efforts to break the will of the armed forces, whose continued support for Maduro is crucial to his bid to retain power.
Use of U.S. military force in Venezuela could spark an outbreak of violence in a country already plagued by ongoing humanitarian crises, experts have warned.
“I have to think that there’s not much real appetite for a military intervention in Venezuela in the Trump administration,” Geoff Ramsey, an expert on the country at the Washington Office for Latin America, a think tank, said Monday.
He told HuffPost before the administration briefing that he believed U.S. officials are “really interested in talking the talk and not necessarily walking the walk. And I think the Maduro regime knows that, and they know that a kind of confrontational rhetoric really ultimately weakens the hand of the U.S.”
“I would like to think that the foreign policy establishment actually understands that intervening militarily in Venezuela would be a disaster,” Ramsey said. “A military option, even threats of a military option, are entirely counterproductive and need to be kept off the table at all costs.”
The U.S. has a long history of using its military and intelligence services to try to oust Latin American leaders it opposes. The U.S. was closely linked to a failed coup against socialist President Hugo Chavez in 2002. Chavez died in office in 2013, and Maduro replaced him.
The Trump administration last week appointed Elliott Abrams, a former adviser to presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, as its special envoy to Venezuela. Abrams approved the Bush administration’s coup effort against Chavez, according to reports from that time.