Working from an office near the Miami airport, three Venezuelan exiles are plotting the overthrow of the government of President Nicolas Maduro, claiming they have military forces standing by in five countries, including the United States. And they say they’re making inroads with the Trump administration, which has expressed support for regime change in the country.
Last March, the exiles created a Miami-registered nonprofit called Venezuela Freedom Inc., which was soon rechristened with the less business-minded moniker of Venezuela Freedom Foundation. The website includes a nine-slide “Strategic Plan” from May 2018. The first slide after the cover page is entitled, “Venezuela Needs a Regime Change.”
The three men see themselves as part of a government in exile and are putting together a list of post-coup Cabinet ministers. They plan to move back to their homeland as soon as “the invaders are thrown out,” Jean Pierre Chovet, a businessman and one of the three leaders, said in a phone interview. He said action is needed swiftly as an assortment of narco-traffickers and terrorist groups, including the Islamic State, have established five government-approved training camps in Venezuela, including one on Margarita Island, a popular tourist destination.
Chovet’s two business partners are Julio Rodriguez Salas, a former Army colonel, and Carlos Molina Tamayo, an ex-Navy vice admiral. The pair were both key players in a botched, deeply unpopular 2002 coup attempt against Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor. (Rodriguez and Molina did not reply to requests for comment sent through Chovet.)
The Venezuela Freedom Foundation says it is sending humanitarian aid to Venezuela, but its plans include “a piece of military action” that will topple Maduro, Chovet said. It will be led, he said, by “clean” anti-Maduro army personnel in Venezuela, along with military forces said to be mustered in the United States, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and from a Caribbean island Chovet said was best not to identify. He said the foundation had support from the governments of Colombia and from officials close to Jair Bolsonaro, the incoming right-wing president of Brazil.
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