CIA Director Mike Pompeo has hinted that the U.S. is pushing for a new government in Venezuela, in collaboration with right-wing allies in the region.
"We are very hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela," Pompeo said at an event on July 20. And, "the CIA is doing its best to understand the dynamic there, so that we can communicate to our State Department and to others."
Pompeo went on to reveal that he had met with officials in Colombia and Mexico to discuss regime change in Venezuela: "I was just down in Mexico City and in Bogota a week before last, talking about this very issue, trying to help them understand the things they might do, so that they can get a better outcome for their part of the world and our part of the world."
The U.S. previously supported a short-lived military coup against Venezuela's democratically elected government, in 2002. The U.S. government has also provided the Venezuelan opposition with tens of millions of dollars in funding in recent years.
Mike Pompeo's remarks were first disclosed by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada. Elected President NicolÃ¡s Maduro forcefully condemned the U.S., Colombia and Mexico for scheming against his government.
Pompeo made these comments in a July 20 talk at the 2017 Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. The event also featured neoconservative New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, who interviewed Pompeo. The CIA director and notoriously pro-war pundit were introduced by Kay Sears, a vice president of defense contractor Lockheed Martin. Sears opened the event stating, "I'm here representing all 97,000 Lockheed Martin employees, who are proud to be a sponsor for the second year of this great forum."
Venezuela's Violent Protests
Venezuela has seen large, violent protests in recent months. Elements of the right-wing opposition openly state that they are waging "war" against the elected socialist government, and have effectively launched a right-wing insurgency.
Nearly 100 people have been killed in the country and thousands have been injured, in violence from both sides.
Right-wing opposition activists have used increasingly extreme forms of violence, attacking the Supreme Court with a helicopter, setting leftist Afro-Venezuelans on fire, bombing security forces, besieging a military base, burning down government buildings and looting stores. Venezuelan security forces have forcefully responded to the violence with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Hoping for Regime Change
In the Q&A session after the Aspen Institute talk, prominent opposition supporter Vanessa Neumann, president of the business intelligence consultancy firm Asymmetrica, asked the CIA director for his assessment of the situation in Venezuela.
"In Venezuela, regime change looks to be, we hope, imminent," Neumann said. She expressed hope that there will be "a change in 60 to 90 days."
"I'm interested in your open assessment on American interests in or threats from Venezuela — which of course has Russian, Iranian, etc., interests — and for the region," Neumann added.
Pompeo replied, "Any time you have a country as large and with the economic capacity of a country like Venezuela, America has a deep interest in making sure that it is stable and as democratic as possible. And so, we're working hard to do that."
He suggested the right-wing governments in Colombia and Mexico were working with the U.S. to push for a new government in Venezuela.
Pompeo jokingly alluded to the history of bloody CIA coups and support for fascist death squads in Latin America.
"I am always careful when we talk about South and Central America and the CIA; there's a lot of stories," he said, to laughter from the audience. "So I want to be careful with what I say."
According to public government records, the U.S. has given opposition groups in Venezuela tens of millions of dollars in support, since the Bolivarian Revolution was launched by Hugo ChÃ¡vez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) two decades ago.
In April 2002, the U.S. backed a military coup, ousting Venezuela's democratic government and briefly installing an unelected right-wing businessman as president. Elected socialist President ChÃ¡vez was so popular, however, that masses of Venezuelans filled the streets and restored him to power.
The Trump administration has ratcheted up U.S. threats against Venezuela, and lawmakers are discussing imposing even harsher sanctions on the country.
Venezuela has the largest known oil reserves in the world. Its economy relies very heavily on exporting this natural resource.
Since the drastic fall in oil prices in 2014, Venezuela has seen increasing economic problems. The right-wing opposition has blamed the government, and launched increasingly violent protests in response.
The administration of President NicolÃ¡s Maduro has pointed to forms of economic sabotage and hoarding carried out by corporations and rich Venezuelans, which it claims are part of a corporate-backed "economic war" against the leftist government.
The Aspen Institute describes its annual Aspen Security Forum as a "gathering of top-level present and former government officials from all relevant national security agencies; industry leaders; leading thinkers; nationally noted print and broadcast journalists; and concerned citizens."
An influential think tank, the Aspen Institute's Board of Trustees comprises a veritable Who's Who of powerful politicians, plutocrats and journalists. Among its trustees are David Koch, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Jordan's Queen Noor, Katie Couric and former Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Aspen Institute president and CEO Walter Isaacson previously served as CEO and chairman of CNN and editor of Time Magazine.
The full talk featuring Mike Pompeo and Bret Stephens was posted on the Aspen Institute's YouTube channel, and can be viewed here: