The U.S. has opened up secret communications with Venezuelan socialist boss Diosdado Cabello, an alleged drug kingpin and the second most powerful person in Venezuela, after President Nicolás Maduro, The Associated Press reported late Sunday, citing a senior U.S. administration official. Cabello, 56, met with a U.S.-backed envoy in Caracas last month, the official said, though it isn't clear if Cabello is acting on Maduro's behalf or, as the official suggested, negotiating safety guarantees if he helps topple Maduro.
AP isn't reporting who Cabello is meeting with, but Axios said Sunday that National Security Council official Mauricio Claver-Carone has been communicating with Cabello through emissaries, and U.S. officials tell both Axios and AP that Cabello is among a handful of top Maduro officials who have secretly reached out to the U.S. An unidentified Cabello aide disputes that, telling AP that the U.S. has been chasing Cabello, and Cabello would only meet with U.S. officials with Maduro's permission. Cabello did not take part in April's failed uprising.
Trump, meanwhile, is getting frustrated that Maduro is still in power, and he has suggested publicly and pushed "more vividly" in private for the U.S. to set up a naval blockade along Venezuela's coast, five current and former officials tell Axios. "They added that to their knowledge the Pentagon hasn't taken this extreme idea seriously, in part because senior officials believe it's impractical, has no legal basis, and would suck resources from a Navy that is already stretched to counter China and Iran."
Trump "literally just said we should get the ships out there and do a naval embargo," one source who's heard Trump's comments told Axios. "I'm assuming he's thinking of the Cuban missile crisis. ... But Cuba is an island and Venezuela is a massive coastline. ... It would need massive, massive amounts of resources; probably more than the U.S. Navy can provide." Former Defense Secretary James Mattis long stonewalled Trump's demands for a military option for Venezuela, Axios reports.