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    In this handout photo released by the Miraflores Presidential Press Office, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro flashes a V for Victory hand gesture after arriving at the Fort Tiuna military base in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019.

    US Contacting Venezuelan Military Officials Directly to Urge Defections - Report

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    The US intelligence community is directly communicating with members of Venezuela’s military in attempts to convince them to abandon beleaguered President Nicolas Maduro while also considering additional sanctions to ramp up the pressure, a senior White House official divulged to Reuters.

    Despite the fact that only a few senior officers have to date abandoned Maduro, the Trump administration expects additional military personnel to jump ship. 

    In late January, Juan Guaido, the head of the opposition-led National Assembly, proclaimed himself the South American nation's interim president, in a move swiftly recognized by the US and a handful of other countries.

    "We believe these to be those first couple pebbles before we start really seeing bigger rocks rolling down the hill," the unnamed White House official speaking on a condition of anonymity, told Reuters. "We're still having conversations with members of the former Maduro regime, with military members, although those conversations are very, very limited."

    The unnamed official did not provide additional details regarding what form motivation was being offered to top military officials to gain their support, according to Reuters.

    Many members of the Venezuelan military remain loyal to Maduro, mostly in fear of being targeted by the embattled leader. To convince those on-the-fence members to abandon Maduro, the US must offer something that makes a turncoat move worthwhile, noted Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas think tank in Washington.

    "It depends on what they're offering," Farnsworth told Reuters. "Are there incentives built into these contacts that will at least cause people to question their loyalty to the regime?"

    A few European nations have joined the Trump administration in its support of Guaido as the interim president, although those nations professing political support have not taken the additional step of backing US sanctions on Venezuela's state-owned oil giant PDVSA as well as other restrictions on financial transactions imposed by Washington. 

    The US State Department announced last month that Washington froze some $7 billion in assets belonging to Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA in order to make some of that money available to Guaido and his team.

    According to the US official who spoke anonymously to Reuters, the Trump administration is also considering imposing sanctions on Cuban military and intelligence officials who are thought to be assisting Maduro.

    Maduro, after launching a signature-gathering campaign against alleged US interference, has repeatedly stressed his sentiment that the main objective behind Washington's interest in the political outcome in Venezuela is the nation's oil reserves, said to the largest in the world.

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    US sanctions on Venezuela, sanctions, white house, Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela, United States
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