In a speech in April, when he was still White House policy chief for Latin America, Mr. Cruz issued a message to the Venezuelan military. Referring to Mr. Maduro as a “madman,” Mr. Cruz said all Venezuelans should “urge the military to respect the oath they took to perform their functions. Honor your oath.”
As the crisis in Venezuela worsened in recent years, American officials debated the pros and cons of opening lines of dialogue with rebellious factions of the military.
“There were differences of opinion,” said Ms. Aponte, the former top Latin America diplomat under Mr. Obama. “There were people who had a lot of faith in the idea that they could bring about stability, help distribute food, work on practical stuff.”
But others — including Ms. Aponte — saw considerable risk in building bridges with leaders of a military that, in Washington’s assessment, has become a pillar of the cocaine trade and human rights abuses.
Roberta Jacobson, a former ambassador to Mexico who preceded Ms. Aponte as the top State Department official for Latin America policy, said that while Washington has long regarded the Venezuelan military as “widely corrupt, deeply involved in narcotics trafficking and very unsavory,” she saw merit in establishing a back channel with some of them.
“Given the broader breakdown in institutions in Venezuela, there was a feeling that — while they were not necessarily the answer — any kind of democratic resolution would have had to have the military on board,” said Ms. Jacobson, who retired from the State Department this year. “The idea of hearing from actors in those places, no matter how unsavory they may be, is integral to diplomacy.”
But whatever the rationale, holding discussions with coup plotters could set off alarms in a region with a list of infamous interventions: the Central Intelligence Agency’s failed Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow Fidel Castro as leader of Cuba in 1961; the American-supported coup in Chile in 1973, which led to the long military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet; and the Reagan administration’s covert support of right-wing rebels known as the contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s.
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