The Pentagon is developing new military options for Venezuela aimed at deterring Russian, Cuban and Chinese influence inside the regime of President Nicolas Maduro, but stopping short of any kinetic military actions, according to a defense official familiar with the effort.
The deterrence options are being ordered following a White House meeting last week where national security adviser John Bolton told acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to develop ideas on the Venezuela crisis.
The official emphasized strongly that the initial work is being done by the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, which conducts planning for future military operations along with the Southern Command, which oversees any US military involvement in the southern hemisphere.
And even though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said that “all options” remain on the table for dealing with Venezuela, several Pentagon officials continue to say there is no appetite at the Department of Defense for using US military force against the Venezuelan regime to try to force it from power.
While President Donald Trump has called for Maduro to leave and has said the Russians have to get out of Venezuela, there is no indication he wants to commit US troops to a major military action there.
Instead, deterrence options could include US naval exercises in the immediate region to emphasize humanitarian assistance and more military interaction with neighboring countries. The idea would be to challenge any Russian, Cuban or Chinese notion that they could have unchallenged access to the region.
The preliminary planning work being done will at some point be forwarded to Shanahan, who in turn will then present ideas to the White House, the official said.
The US called for Maduro to step down in February, when National Assembly President Juan Guaido declared himself interim president on the grounds that a 2018 election had been rigged. Since then, tensions have climbed as senior US officials have repeated their calls for the military to abandon Maduro, while Maduro has blamed the US for Venezuela’s troubles.
During a speech commemorating the 17th anniversary of the failed coup against the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Saturday, Maduro called on all Venezuelans who want to get in involved and defend their homeland to enlist and train with the military to reach the “new goal of 3 million members.”