Supporting the overthrow attempt is a risky proposition for the Trump administration, but if it works Trump can claim a political and even moral victory.
President Donald Trump and his top aides on Tuesday swiftly endorsed an attempted government takeover in Venezuela, where opposition leaders backed by a band of rebellious soldiers are trying to oust strongman Nicolás Maduro.
The day’s events were extraordinary by many measures; the U.S. even asserted that Maduro had a plane ready to fly him to Havana, but that Russia had persuaded him to stay.
Supporting the uprising is a risky proposition for Trump, who also used the occasion to threaten Cuba over its support of Maduro. The Venezuelan dictator retains the loyalty of many of his military generals, and he may survive the power struggle despite claims by Trump aides that some high-level Venezuelan officials conspired with the opposition to turn against their leader.
Many Latin Americans also resent America’s history of backing coups throughout the region. And Russia is helping prop up Maduro, adding to the situation’s complexity.
But should Maduro fall, Trump can claim a political and even moral victory as the 2020 elections loom, saying that months of pressure from his administration — pressure that earned support from many Democrats — helped liberate starving Venezuelans from an autocrat who destroyed their oil-blessed country’s economy.
Trump has been insisting that Maduro step aside since late January, when he recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate leader.