Today, during a press conference, national security adviser John Bolton was holding a yellow legal pad that had the phrase “5,000 troops to Colombia” written on it, according to CBS. The other line on the notepad read “Afghanistan —> welcome the talks.” He seemingly did not know that the note was legible. Economic adviser Larry Kudlow eventually turned the notes away from the cameras.
On Twitter, reporters noticed the writing, and began speculating whether it was in reference to a plan for military operations in Venezuela, Colombia’s neighbor.
This does not look good for the Trump administration, who have been cagey about plans for military intervention in Venezuela since recognizing 35-year-old Juan Guaidó, Venezuela’s opposition leader, as the president of the country last week. Guaidó declared himself the interim president amid mass demonstrations and called for new, open elections. President Nicolás Maduro, who was reelected in 2017, has not ceded control.
After Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s initial declaration of support for Guaidó, Maduro cut diplomatic ties with the U.S. and asked American diplomats to leave the country. Pompeo refused to follow Maduro’s order, saying that our diplomats would remain in Caracas. He’s now ordered most of the embassy staff back to the U.S.
Bolton’s held a press conference at the White House earlier today in order to announce sanctions against a Venezuela state-owned oil company, essentially prohibiting Venezuelan oil sales to the U.S. and cutting off one of the country’s major sources of income. On Venezuelan TV, Maduro called the new sanctions “criminal,” and accused the U.S. of robbing Venezuela of their wealth. He said he would soon announce a response.
When the Associated Press asked the White House to explain Bolton’s note, they replied, “as the President has said, all options are on the table.” They wouldn’t explain it further.
At 7:30 pm, Bolton tweeted, seemingly in response to the controversy around the note, saying that the administration “continue[s] to pursue all paths” to “disconnect the illegitimate Maduro regime from its sources of revenue” and “bring democracy back to Venezuela.”
We can’t know what Trump and Bolton have planned, but it sure looks like they are gearing up for a possible military action. Caracol Radio in Colombia reported today that General Mark Stammer, commander of the U.S. Army South, was expected to arrive in the country shortly to organize with allies.
This is hardly the U.S.’s first venture into regime change in Latin America. Most recently, in 2009, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supported new elections in Honduras following the ousting of leftist leader Manuel Zelaya, leading to years of strife from which the country has not recovered. Studies have found that even U.S. statements in favor of Latin American coups have had an impact on whether they are carried off successfully. As of yet, there’s no research on what kind of impact op-sec disasters like Bolton’s might have.