Are we secretly negotiating with Venezuelan socialist party leaders?

Last time we checked in on the situation in Venezuela it was basically a stalemate. Negotiations between the government of Nicolas Maduro and supporters of self-declared interim President Juan Guaido, being hosted by Norway have stagnated and were recently suspended. Guaido hasn’t been able to rally the military to his side to forcibly remove their dictator and Maduro is viewed as having too tentative of a hold on power to arrest Guaido and deal with the international backlash. But there may be some new action afoot.

The Associated Press is offering exclusive coverage of a story in which they claim that the United States is currently trying to negotiate in secret with senior members of Maduro’s socialist party. They’re allegedly dangling offers of protection with no repercussions if the tyrant’s own backers, including some of the most powerful in the country, will turn on him.

The U.S. has opened up secret communications with Venezuela’s socialist party boss as members of President Nicolás Maduro’s inner circle seek guarantees they won’t face retribution if they cede to growing demands to remove him, a senior administration official has told The Associated Press.

Diosdado Cabello, who is considered the most-powerful man in Venezuela after Maduro, met last month in Caracas with someone who is in close contact with the Trump administration, said the official. A second meeting is in the works but has not yet taken place.

The AP is withholding the intermediary’s name and details of the encounter with Cabello out of concern the person could suffer reprisals. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to discuss the talks, which are still preliminary.

If we’re trying to cut deals with Diosdado Cabello, times have grown desperate indeed. His nickname is “the octopus” and he’s amassed a vast fortune through corruption. He’s been identified as the head of one of the largest drug cartels in South America and the Miami Herald identified him in 2017 as the mastermind of a plot to assassinate Marco Rubio, involving Mexican cartels. But I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures, eh?

One question that immediately came to my mind was why the Associated Press would be going public with these negotiations, assuming the story is true. Every one of the sources they quote are anonymous (no doubt fearing for their lives). And if the story is true, then wouldn’t Maduro toss Cabello in prison immediately, assuming he didn’t just have him killed?

For his part, Cabello is claiming that he would only negotiate with the Americans if Maduro approved the conversation and Maduro’s terms were met. That may be true or perhaps he’s just trying to cover his butt. But Cabello is one of the most senior members of the socialist party and a true powerbroker in that country. Would the ick factor of having to deal with such a slimy character be justified if it resulted in Maduro voluntarily stepping aside without any additional bloodshed?

That’s a tough call. If these talks are really happening, President Trump must feel it’s worth the risk, and we know he very much wants Maduro out of office. But even if that happened, if somebody like Cabello replaced him instead of Guaido, bringing the hope of fair elections, the people of Venezuela wouldn’t be any better off than they are now. In fact, it could conceivably be worse.

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