Venezuela: A deal with the Diosdado?

What to make of news reports that the U.S. is in secret talks with Venezuela's most grotesquely corrupt politician outside its dictator, Nicolas Maduro?

The Associated Press's very reliable Josh Goodman got the first scoop.

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — The U.S. has opened up secret communications with Venezuela’s socialist party boss as members of President Nicolás Maduro’s inner circle seek guarantees they won’t face retribution if they cede to growing demands to remove him, a senior U.S. administration official has told The Associated Press.

Diosdado Cabello, who is considered the most-powerful man in Venezuela after Maduro, met last month in Caracas with someone who is in close contact with the Trump administration, said the official. A second meeting is in the works but has not yet taken place.

Axios took it even further:

Behind the scenes: In recent months, an alleged drug lord in President Nicolás Maduro's inner circle has reached out to the White House through intermediaries, according to administration officials and other sources briefed on the outreach.

  • Diosdado Cabello, an alleged drug lord with substantial power inside the Venezuelan political and military elite, has been communicating through emissaries with National Security Council official Mauricio Claver-Carone, these sources said. These sources did not know what messages, if any, Claver-Carone had sent back to Cabello through these intermediaries.
  • A senior administration official added that members of various centers of power within Venezuela, including Cabello, have been reaching out through emissaries to U.S. government officials.
  • Trump administration officials view Cabello as an important power broker, and some say the Venezuelan opposition's April 30 uprising would have succeeded if Cabello had been involved.
  • Some State Department officials are concerned about the idea of communicating with an alleged drug lord, per a source familiar with the situation. It's also the case that some administration officials have assessed that Cabello purportedly sending messages is a positive sign and suggests Maduro's circle is gradually cracking.

And now both the Trump administration and the Maduro dictatorship confirm the talks.

I have no particular information of how this is going, but the first thing that can be said is that it's vintage Trump. Trump isn't afraid to talk or negotiate with the world's most revolting despots. Just as Kim Jong Un, or the Taliban. Obviously, Cabello noticed.

Axios reports that Cabello is the one who reached out to the Trump administration rather than the other way around.

It might also be telling that he called up National Security point man for Latin America, Mauricio Claver-Carone, over the State Department's chief representative, Elliott Abrams, too. Maybe he did it for language reasons - Claver-Carone is fluent in Cuban-accented Spanish which isn't that different from Venezuelan Spanish. Abrams likely also speaks Spanish, but probably not as fluently. Or perhaps he does, but Cabello doesn't know this for sure.

There also could be something deeper. Abrams is an old and experienced diplomat who successfully worked the 1990 Panama ouster of Manuel Noriega as well as the less successful Iraq invasion. His velvet revolution idea for Venezuela, attempted in April with the participation and egging of acting President Juan Guaido, calling on the Venezuelan military to defect, didn't work out the way it worked in Eastern Europe in 1989. It was dreamy, idealistic stuff templated from past operations, as if Venezuela's grossly corrupted military was actually full of latent Jeffersonian Democrats in disguise. That didn't work in Iraq and it sure as heck didn't work in Venezuela. Cabello would have noticed and quite possibly dismissed Abrams as inflexible and lacking in accurate intelligence, or maybe viewed him as sanctimonious on human rights issues, something that Cabello, a soulless drug lord and killer, wouldn't want to get involved with. So for that he may have turned to the clever, canny Claver-Carone instead. 

Here's another thing that stands out about a subsequent Wall Street Journal report by Jose Cordoba (emphasis mine):

Privately, officials in the Trump administration say they recognize that their efforts over the last eight months to force Mr. Maduro out and replace him with Mr. Guaidó have stalled, leading them to explore Venezuela’s various power centers and the people who lead them. “The Americans understand that they have to play a role in any successful negotiation,” said a person familiar with the talks in Barbados.

If the U.S. is looking for a source of power, there probably isn't a better one than Diosdado Cabello. 

Who is this guy, whose name translates faintly ridiculously to 'godgiven hair'?

The press is focusing on Cabello's control over something called the National Constituent Assembly, a phony baloney uber-parliament that Maduro set up to rule over Venezuela's legitimately elected legislature, (kind of like the way the Democrats vow to stack the Supreme Court), which is full of dissidents in opposition to the dictatorship. That assembly serves as an absolute check on the National Assembly and prevents it from passing any laws. Cabello runs it, effectively serving as the thug who keeps Maduro in power on the legal front. If the U.S. wants to negotiate with someone, that guy is the guy.

Second, he's a military guy - and not just any military guy, a military guy who controls the military. Here's what was published about him in American Thinker back in 2005, and boy it's weird to read that now:

The highest—ranking Chavez loyalist with Venezuelan military ties is an ex—military man, Diosdado Cabello, who was late last year ousted from his Minister of Infrastructure position (a demotion from vice president), and exiled to become governor of Miranda state. He's been loyal to Chavez for 15 years. But now in Miranda, he's isolated from the hustle and bustle of Caracas and its inner—circle political intrigue. Exile was an effort to make Cabello less of a player. Miranda state's capital is not far from Caracas but for practical purposes, amounts to Khrushchev sending Malenkov to manage a hydroelectric power station in Kazakhstan after many years of faithful party service. Obviously, Chavez doesn't trust Cabello, who, unlike Malenkov, is believed to be a man of at least some actual executive ability. Out in the figurative boondocks, he seems to be continuing to grow in popularity, and news reports say he also seems to be amassing money somehow.  Both of which signal continuing potential problems for Chavez.
It gets even more interesting to look at Cabello's main political rival, a Chavez loyalist and party buffoon named Jesse Chacon, who's Interior & Justice Minister. He's not in exile, he's actually been moved upward fairly recently from Information & Communications Minister. He reportedly has the opposite effect on Venezuela's troops as Cabello. Chacon is a powerful leftist politician who falls in love with every guerrilla in the midst he comes in contact with. He's a communist fanatic who's focused on internal security — the block committees, rabble rousers, and grassroots organizers; what the Sandinistas once called 'revolution from below.' He's in close with political muscle and goons. And he's just wild about Sandalistas from abroad wearing Che tee shirts. More to the point, it's not Venezuela's military he consorts with, but Venezuela's military's historic enemy: Colombia's dreaded Marxist FARC guerrillas. He's employed some of them and their relatives in city offices. Chacon's ascent doesn't go down well with Venezuela's troops who have expended blood and treasure over decades to destroy these deadly narcoterrorists and many don't appreciate this lunatic giving them succor.  
The political rivalry ensures potential for volatility. But there also is the less predictable threat of indiscipline in the armed forces themselves to give Chavez more reasons to  worry. Ever since Colombian bounty hunters snatched a high—ranking FARC terrorist from Caracas last December, stuffed him in a car trunk and drove him back to the Colombian border to face justice, Chavez has learned that at least some Venezuelan troops can be bought off by anyone out there who's willing to offer them money. The FARC terrorist, Rodrigo Granda, had walking around freely in the streets of Caracas, addressing a Sandalista conference that weekend, with Chavez's approval. That was why Chavez reacted with such fury when he realized Granda's capture was assisted by Venezuelan security forces who were paid off by the Colombian government. With that the case, Chavez realized they could have been bought by anyone. To do anything. And bought pretty cheaply.
So back to same-old Cabello, this time looking for a means of holding onto power, some kind of amnesty deal like FARC eventually got in Colombia, a reward for years of violence and drug dealing, along with, as FARC got, a door left open for a return to power, too. And the Latin American Herald Tribune reports that U.S. officials are holding their noses, and totally grossing out at the thought of talking to this guy, who, after all, ought to be on the end of a meathook.
Yet, yet, yet ... at the same time, this really guy does have power, first over Maduro's continued legislative dictatorship, and maybe even more importantly over the actual Venezuelan military, which is supposedly the key to any regime change. Because if you ask if even the top generals ruling Venezuela's military in a reign of terror wield more power than Cabello, the answer is no. Cabello is the power guy for the military and that's the most important thing about him. His problem is that he's also a wielder of death squads, a massive drug lord, and a communist.
Could it be that he's losing his power over the military? Hard to say. Caracas Chronicles has an important item on what he's up to on that front: 
The ANC has one additional function: providing Diosdado Cabello, and let’s remember that without his support Maduro wouldn’t be there still, with his own space to exercise his power, particularly designed to execute his role of persecuting every possible enemy of the Bolivarian Revolution. But currently it seems as if Diosdado needs a little more room for himself, now that he’s started reconquering power by purging the Armed Forces and the opposition after the events of April 30th.
And now, the U.S. may just have to make a deal with this guy if sending in the Marines is not an option. Doing so would be the first risk even if it led to the place the hemisphere wants. But it's a deal with the Diosdado so...the question seems to be not that it could turn out badly or not, but how bad it's going to be?
Image credit: The Photographer, via Wikipedia // CC BY-SA 4.0