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Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham is an independent journalist, covering oil and gas, energy and environmental policy, and international politics. He is based in Portland, Oregon. 

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Is Trump Eyeing A Coup In Venezuela?

Maduro PDVSA

The Trump administration and some others in the U.S. government have sent some not-so-subtle hints lately that they are open to a military invasion of Venezuela to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

“It’s a regime that frankly could be toppled very quickly by the military, if the military decides to do that,” President Trump told reporters on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

The words seem to offer some encouragement for a coup, which may not come as a surprise because the New York Times published an investigation in early September that found that the Trump administration met secretly with Venezuelan military officers over the last year to discuss an overthrow of Maduro.

Venezuela is in tatters and there have been previous signs that Maduro’s grip is tenuous, including the renegade helicopter pilot earlier this year and the bizarre scene in which drones exploded during a military parade in August near Maduro.

In other words, the threat of a coup has been rising for some time.

But more recently, there have been louder murmurings in Washington and beyond. Bloomberg noted that Fernando Cutz, a former member of the National Security Council, said that a multilateral military invasion of Venezuela might be the best solution. Also, some prominent Venezuelan dissidents and former officials have supported regime change. Florida Senator Marco Rubio said there is a “very strong argument” for such a move. Then there were Trump’s comments in New York at the UN. Related: Has Iran Started To Switch Off Oil Tanker Tracking Systems?

Some cautious, but notably receptive comments to an invasion or coup came from officials at the Organization of American States and in the Colombian government, Bloomberg pointed out. Also, Trump is expected to bring in some officials to his government that are notably hawkish in regards to Venezuela.

For now, the U.S. has only officially tried sanctions as a tool of pressure on Maduro. The latest round of sanctions came this week. “[W] ask the nations gathered here to join us in calling for the restoration of democracy in Venezuela,” Trump said at the UN General Assembly. “Today, we are announcing additional sanctions against the repressive regime, targeting Maduro’s inner circle and close advisors.”

The sanctions once again notably stop short of targeting Venezuela’s oil sector. There has been speculation about whether or not the Trump administration would go as far as to try to disrupt more of Venezuela’s oil supply, since it is already in a steep decline. Cutting off imports from Venezuela or barring the export of U.S. diluent to Venezuela would likely contribute to an acceleration of supply losses. That would surely put more pressure on the Maduro regime, but it would also deepen the existing misery in Venezuela.

But a coup or a military invasion is a whole different matter. The U.S. has a long and sordid history intervening in Latin America, playing a role in the overthrow of governments in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, among others. In fact, much of the legitimacy of Maduro’s Chavista government comes from the political narrative of opposing U.S. imperialism. Maduro’s regime is isolated at this point, due to the horrific humanitarian disaster and the brutal repression. But a U.S. invasion would be highly unwelcome in much of Latin America and could bolster support for Maduro, while potentially shifting the responsibility of Venezuela’s crisis from Maduro to Trump.

The Lima Group, a group of 17 Latin American countries formed in 2017 in order to form a collective response to the Venezuelan catastrophe, issued a declaration in August stating that “only Venezuelans can find a solution to the grave crisis affecting their country,” a diplomatic way of stating their opposition to outside military intervention. Related: Schlumberger To Buy Russia's Leading Drilling Company

Moreover, an invasion would not necessarily end the chaos. “You need to have a very strong group of people who can credibly take over, and it’s not clear that there’s a faction in the Venezuelan military or security services that wants that,” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Bloomberg. “So you’re talking about essentially going in and somehow replacing the entire structure of governance and hoping that somehow somebody is going to back you.”


If there is anything that we have learned from the U.S-led military adventures, it’s that they almost never result in the rosy forecasts that war planners put forth.

But, even absent an invasion or a coup, Venezuela’s oil production is heading south. Venezuela’s oil production fell to 1.235 million barrels per day (mb/d) in August, down another 36,000 bpd from a month earlier, according to OPEC’s secondary sources. The losses likely have continued at a similar pace in September, and at this rate, Venezuela’s production could fall below 1 mb/d by the end of the year or in early 2019. “We are entering a very crucial period for the oil market,” the IEA said in mid-September. “The situation in Venezuela could deteriorate even faster.”

By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com

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  • John Brown on September 28 2018 said:
    If Trump would like to earn the undying gratitude of the overwhelming majority of people in Venezuela he would launch an invasion, overthrow the corrupt moron murderer Maduro, help a New Democratic Governorment set up & get the oil flowing again w the help of private American oil companies to restore feedom & prosperity again to the Venezuelan people. Perhaps deal w any of Maduro’s corrupt murdering dictator buddies while he’s at it.
  • Htos1 on September 28 2018 said:
    I don't think the Venezuelans are gonna cry too much if we smash the prog commies and give them a decent life, food, wages, toilet paper, and an interest rate under 10,000% a day.
  • donfitness on September 28 2018 said:
    I think Sean Penn should be their new leader.
  • Australian on September 28 2018 said:
    This is the best way:

    Donald Trump tells the people of Venezuela that THEY need to show the whole World people's and the U.N that they want a Government change.

    They do it this way:
    A date is set by the President of USA, a date where all World's satellites are focused on Venezuela.At a set time, the people are to shine lights into the sky or if no batteries start a SMALL fire torch and get into the open.
    The combined amount of lights would tell the World that they want change.Even the U.N couldn't disagree with this.
    Of course Maduro will try to block batteries purchases and send troops everywhere to threaten people.But they cannot be everywhere at once.
    As long as the people do not burn the Country down, but maybe it needs it done anyway.

    The photos will go around the World's Press, or would they? Since many in the Media love Maduro Socialism.

    The cascading effects of this demonstration could remove Maduro without violence maybe.

    It would be a powerful demonstration of imprisonment

    Russia and China can offer Maduro a home or allow him and family to be killed by locals.

    Worth a go, USAs risk too much blood now>Liberty earned is better than Liberty given.

    Let them sort it out.
  • michael licavoli on September 28 2018 said:
    Before we send in the military, send in our present D O J!
  • Steve Bull on September 28 2018 said:
    The hypocrisy of the US Empire is astounding. While a segment of its domestic population goes absolutely insane over some supposed post-election, click-bait ads blamed on the Russian government that 'meddled' in and influenced their elections, every other comment by American political pundits and government 'agents' advise direct interference in other sovereign nations. What is good for the goose is absolutely verboten for the gander. Do these people not see or sense the obvious hypocrisy? Or do they just not care? In this dystopian world that George Orwell foresaw, it does seem that lies are truth and interference is freedom.
  • Dan Tiede on September 28 2018 said:
    If this were to happen, it would be a disaster. And it would provide evidence that a dangerous faction within the State Department and the CIA is winning the ongoing power struggle in Washington. "Regime change" is a gross violation of national sovereignty, and a leftover from the rotting carcass of past administrations. It's directly in opposition to Donald Trump's "America First" policy.
  • Das on September 28 2018 said:
    Trump needs to send the military into California and clean out the democrat Socialist party in Sacramento that has been destroying California with an iron fist for 30 years.
  • D3F1ANT on September 28 2018 said:
    Even though the Left will go BANANAS at the mention of US involvement in a coup...THEY were willing to try it here! LOL!
  • DWarren on September 28 2018 said:
    Someone certainly needs to help the poor unfortunate souls who were conned into embracing the stupidity of Socialism and are now suffering under the hobnailed boot of a Socialist dictator. The same perennially failed stupid Socialism that destroyed Venezuela is advocated by the current radical, anti-American, alt-Left, Democrat-Socialist Party in the United States. Don't be a useful idiot. Never vote for a Dem candidate at the local, state, or national level.
  • Richard on September 28 2018 said:
    Not likely. But this is obviously a wishful thinking opinion piece by a Hillary fan, so party on.
  • Mike Allen on September 28 2018 said:
    It is ABOUT TIME.
    We would be doing them a favor!!
  • Bill on September 28 2018 said:
    Mr Trump, STAY the HELL out of Venezuela's business. We have our own problems to solve. SIGNED//a deplorable.
  • Jean Debalugh on September 28 2018 said:
    If Trump goes into Venezuela, I could easily see Russia counter by officially taking the Ukraine then perhaps a flood of Chinese and Russian infantry taking the rest of Europe. I think lately the oil markets are seeing a surge by democrat backed money to artificially inflate the oil market to stoke fear into people prior to the mid term elections, same with the liberal left wing news organizations. There's no supply shortage, inventories are building, economies are slowing down because of the implemented trade tariffs and it is just a matter of time before the stock markets face reality and the 1 percent bail out and the markets before Joe lunch pail can get an email to his 401k for changes.
  • Jason Blankovich on September 28 2018 said:
    The US should not invade another country because it is being systematically destroyed by its' own government. It's sad. It's a disaster for its' populace. But, America is not the world's police. If the UN, Britain, France, etc. want to invade and pay for everything, that's their business. Maduro and Chavez before him, and socialism all deserve to die. Chavez has cooperated in that regard. America is over $20 TRILLION dollars in debt and has at least $150 TRILLION dollars in unfunded liabilities in the next ten years. Stay out. Let Venezuela's neighbors take care of it.
  • Dan on September 28 2018 said:
    Since China already has a medical vessel parked there it may soon receive 2 sister ships of military origin to protect it and help stability in the region with a garrison of troops. That's what I'm betting a pizza on.
  • exodus on September 28 2018 said:
    "Moreover, an invasion would not necessarily end the chaos. "

    That's a serious understatement. Nobody is arguing that the Maduro regime is legitimate or beneficial to the Venezuelan people or the region, but destabilization invites chaos, and the last several regime changes (Afghan, Iraq, Libya) undertaken by the US have NOT been smooth transitions of power.
  • Mark E. Haas on September 28 2018 said:
    The US should consider an invasion, the consequences of an invasion, and an exit strategy. The US should consider such an action only at the invitation of the broader OAS and with its consent and participation.

    The US invaded Grenada in 1982 at the behest of the OAS. Clearly, the socialist regime of Venezuela is posing a greater humanitarian crisis than was posed by the Cuban invasion of Grenada.

    The model of cooperation is shown in Grenada invasion and can be accomplished to the benefit of Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela.
  • lynn wood on September 28 2018 said:
    We need to think strategically. We should just invade, establish a new government and then have that government apply for annexation to the United States. This would improve our hold on control of the Caribbean and aid our ability to counter China's increasing influence in Latin America.
    Otherwise, we shall be bogged down for decades in a never ending occupation that drives more citizens of Venezuela into the United States, just adding to the ever increasing economic refugee load we shoulder.
  • Carol on September 28 2018 said:
    What a great opportunity. All the Liberals in Hollywood, could move down there, and show the world how to make Socialism work.
  • Rico on September 28 2018 said:
    Venezuelas' neighbors, with whom we have good relations, and who are currently bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis, oppose a U.S. backed coup.

    I think that as long as they are willing to keep the refugees, we should stay out of it. If they want to put together a military coalition not directly involving the U.S., and take control of Venezuela for humanitarian purposes, I would be ok with that too.
  • abel garcia on September 28 2018 said:
    I bet Alexandra Ocassio Cortez is fuming!
  • Scotty Gunn on September 28 2018 said:
    We should send them Bernie Sanders, he'll show them how socialism really is meant to work. It just never works because no one has done it right yet. Ask any democrat.
  • Hal Slusher on September 28 2018 said:
    Actually it is time we quit saving people from themselves let them deal with it.
  • Mike on September 28 2018 said:
    The US has a long history of invading Latin-American countries “for their own good”. This is a problem for Venezuela and it’s neighbors. Let them solve it.

    The US is terrible at nation-building. We make enemies of every country we invade to “liberate”. With two ongoing wars in the Middle East, why do we think a third in Venezuela would be successful? It would likely lead to civil war in that country, making life more miserable than it is now.
  • Phaedrus51 on October 01 2018 said:
    Another failed Socialist regime. Why can't America learn from the failures of other nations that have sunk under Socialism? Yet we keep looking to elect Socialist like Occasional Cortex in NY, and Beto in TX, and re-elect the idiot Sanders in Vermont. Stop! Your nation has granted you the privilege to vote. It come with using your power at the polls responsibly, electing people to represent you that will be a benefit to your nation. Stupid Democrat Socialists are too easily distracted by the lure of "free stuff". Grow up, there ain't no free lunch! Someone pay, and when you run out of other peoples money, there is no more.

    Venezuela Nationalized all the means of production, and thy didn't have any clue how it worked. Not how oil production is done, not how the economy works, not how trade works, not how agricultural production is done, not how reliable distribution of production is done, not how to perform maintenance on infrastructure, not how to maintain communication, nor sanitation, only how to bully, coerce and jail any who opposed. They didn't know jack, and have taken a great economy and destroyed it. Time for Socialism be rooted out, hunted down and held to account.
  • Dino on October 03 2018 said:
    Grenada pop. is about 100k so Venzuela with ~30mil is a different ball game.

    The Economy is ruined by socialist policies and is not going to fix itself over night just by removing the socialists in power. Would probably take a decade just to get the country on track.

    But if USA wants to play unilateral world police again then go ahead and intervene inherit that problem and get blamed for war and casualties.

    I say, let them handle it, sooner or later people will rise up. Besides, the world need be reminded what a failure state socialism is.
  • Kay Uwe Böhm on October 04 2018 said:
    Rising oil prices helping venezuela, iran & russia not usa as nr. 1 oil importer 2016. Main problem.for venezuela is outgoing of oil and all new reserves written not real.
    Main reason for conflict likely anti-zionism of maduro attacked by jew slave state usa
    with most worse ugly burger D.T golf club awaiting next hurricane, snow blizzard, quake, drought, tornado, forest and nuclear burning by korean land mines & rockets and cleaning with cobalt doomsday torpedos ?

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