National Security Advisor John Bolton joined the Hugh Hewitt radio program Friday morning to discuss the escalating crisis in Venezuela, where the U.S. backs a new declared interim president against Russia and China-backed President Nicolas Maduro.
"Our objective is a peaceful transfer of power," Bolton said, but "all options are on the table."
"Within a day or two, we’re going to see a major series of demonstrations all across Venezuela tomorrow intended to convince the military, among others in Venezuela, that the overwhelming majority of the people of the country want the Maduro regime thrown out," Bolton said.
Bolton also said the president is "actively engaged" with the crisis in Venezuela and called the new interim president Juan Guiado on Thursday. Bolton said he and the president "talk several times per day" about the issue.
HH: The first question is the obvious question. Is military intervention imminent by the U.S., Brazil, or Colombia, or some combination thereof, in Venezuela?
JB: No, the President said all options are on the table. But our objective is a peaceful transfer of power. And that’s why we’ve been imposing economic sanctions, increasing political pressure from around the world, including from the European Parliament yesterday, for example, hopefully from the countries themselves. Within a day or two, we’re going to see a major series of demonstrations all across Venezuela tomorrow intended to convince the military, among others in Venezuela, that the overwhelming majority of the people of the country want the Maduro regime thrown out. That’s what we hope and expect to do.
HH: If the U.S. is obliged because of all of the options being on the table to intervene, would it intend to stay long?
JB: Well, I don’t really want to speculate. I think this is something that the people of Venezuela really are the focus of. I think what is important is, as you mentioned in your first question, though, is there is overwhelming support among the Latin American countries for the transfer of power away from Maduro. There are a few exceptions – Cuba, Nicaragua, for example, for obvious reasons. But this is not a made in the USA effort. This is a made in Venezuela effort fully supported across the board, all kinds of different governments in Latin America supporting Juan Guaido, the interim president.
HH: Now Ambassador Bolton, your yellow pad the other day said, “5,000 troops to Colombia.” Has an Army combat brigade been ordered to Colombia or already there?
JB: (laughing) You know, when we say all options are on the table, we want to keep it at that level. And going beyond that, I think, would be imprudent, as George H.W. Bush would say.
HH: Well, radio is, of course, an audio show not, we can’t see what’s on your yellow pad. Anything written on our yellow pad right now you’d like to share with us?
JB: It says Hugh Hewitt. That’s what I have written down. (laughing)
HH: Okay, that’s not enough. Don’t invade the studio. Let’s talk about after Maduro. I think he’s a goner. How quickly can Venezuela revert to the norm of a thriving, I mean, they’re the rich, they’ve got the most oil in the world. How long will it take to recover?
JB: Well, we’re hoping it will be very quick, although one has to say the social disintegration, the assault on the fabric of civil society after 20 years of rule by Chavez and Maduro has had profound effects. You know, right now, we estimate somewhere perhaps as many as 4 million -plus refugees have fled from Venezuela, maybe a million and a half in Colombia, maybe half a million in Brazil, the other million scattered around, including a couple hundred thousand in this country. The poor people who were the source of Chavez’ support in the early years have been hardest hit. There are studies by think tanks and universities that said in the past, just in the past year or so, the weight of the average Venezuelan has decreased 24 pounds. Think about that. So the economic devastation that this socialist government has caused is really quite profound. On the other hand, we believe that the oil infrastructure, which has been neglected by Maduro so that he and his cronies can loot the oil revenues away from the Venezuelan people, we think that can be fixed in some substantial measure fairly quickly. So if we could get that turned back on, get oil production back up after Maduro leaves, then that’s a source of revenue that would be applied very quickly. We are looking now at what humanitarian assistance we can give. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last Saturday that we would be prepared to donate an initial $20 million dollars to the Red Cross, to the UN High Commission for Refugees. So we’re looking at all this very carefully.
HH: Now Ambassador Bolton, Reuters reported atrocities have begun to occur – between 35 and 40 people murdered, 850 people kidnapped. I believe that the secret agents of Maduro were at the home of the actual president, legitimate leader, Guaido. Can even the dumbest generals and admirals count on us doing, standing by when they do this? I mean, can they not realize that’s going to trigger, if they have a Tiananmen Square in Venezuela, we’re not going to stand by, are we?
JB: Well, this is the critical question. And I think, you know, when you’ve looked at other revolutions, some in the Arab Spring in Egypt, for example, the military wouldn’t fire on their own people. So tomorrow, as I say, all across Venezuela, there are going to be what we believe to be massive demonstrations. And I think that should show to the military where the real heart of the people is. The problem that makes it particularly acute in Venezuela is the control exercised by Cuban Security Forces, you know, in many respects, that actually intimidate the Venezuelan military. It’s not an accident that around the hemisphere, people now call the country Cubazuela, because the Cubans are so much a part of the Maduro regime. And that’s why the stakes are high here, because a major defeat for Cuba in Venezuela could have ramifications in Cuba as well, obviously.
HH: Is there a risk that the Cuban agents, and there are now Russian mercenaries allegedly in the country, the little green men, that they open fire on the free people of Venezuela demonstrating, and they create the Tiananmen Square? Have you considered that risk that it’s not the Venezuelan military, but the Cubans and the Russians?
JB: No, that’s precisely correct. I mean, what we’ve seen, the violence you’ve referred to already, which interestingly has been largely in the poorest parts of Caracas, that is to say directed against the poorest residents of the city, the former supporters of Chavez by basically armed gangs called collectivos in Spanish trained and equipped by Cuba. These are the thugs and killers that have been sent out in the past days, were sent out against earlier expressions of opposition to Maduro. And it’s these people, they are absolutely ruthless. This is as cold-blooded, they’re capable of cold-blooded murder, and they’ve engaged in it already. So the strength of the demonstrations by the citizens, the civilian population, is important. And the more people who come out, you know, it provides safety for everybody. So there’s a kind of cycle here. And this is what has to convince the military that the regime has completely lost the confidence of the Venezuelan people.
HH: But we, I hope we have communicated that there will be no mercy for people who open fire on demonstrators. There will be no amnesty, and we’ll find them. And I think it would trigger intervention. I’m not you, obviously, but is that not a likelier outcome if they open fire on groups of people that are large and mass for freedom?
JB: Well, what we’re trying to do is work with interim President Juan Guaido. You know, we don’t want to give Maduro the, any basis for an argument that somehow he’s a puppet of ours. He’s a brave and independent leader. He’s got a series of, I think, very brave people around him. And they’re the ones who are going to have to make the judgment on the ground. The National Assembly some days ago did pass a blanket amnesty for the military, officers and others, who cooperated with the opposition, who cooperated with the National Assembly. But I think they’ve also made it clear that atrocities against the people are not going to get amnesty.
HH: There are reports of Venezuela shipping gold to the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is a very close ally of ours. Have you asked the UAE to sequester that gold?
JB: Let me just say this. We’re obviously aware of those reports consistent with what we did on Monday against PDVSA, the state-owned oil monopoly where we imposed crippling sanctions. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, is implementing them as we speak. We’re also looking at cutting off other streams of revenue and assets for the Maduro mafia, and that certainly includes gold. And we’ve already taken some steps to neutralize gold that’s been out of the country used as collateral for bank loans. We’ve frozen, and our friends in Europe, have frozen a substantial amount of that. We want to try and do the same here. We’re on top of it. That’s really all I can say at the moment.
HH: Ceausescu and Mussolini met bad ends. Idi Amin and Baby Doc Duvalier did not. Is that the choice facing Maduro right now?
JB: Well, I tweeted yesterday, you know, I wish him a long, quiet retirement on a pretty beach far from Venezuela. And the sooner he takes advantage of that, the sooner he’s likely to have a nice, quiet retirement on a pretty beach rather than being in some other beach area like Guantanamo.
HH: And have you been talking frequently with the President about this? Or has he basically delegated this to you and Secretary Pompeo? How often is he talking to you about Venezuela?
JB: We talk several times a day about Venezuela. You know, he called President Juan Guaido a couple of days ago. They had an excellent conversation. The President is very actively engaged in this. And we’re looking at a whole range of economic and political steps that remain to be taken.