As if recent Washington regime change efforts in Venezuela — which on a couple of occasions this year led to brief military coup attempts which were quickly stamped out — weren't already shady and murky enough, enter the prince of off-the-books black ops and covert dirty tricks himself:
Erik Prince, a private security mogul with ties to the Trump administration, held secret talks in Caracas last month with Venezuela’s vice president after briefing at least one senior U.S. official on his plans, according to people familiar with the situation.
Even though Prince was earlier publicly on record (as recently as April) pushing a plan to use thousands of mercenaries to back coup efforts in favor of US-recognize 'interim president' Juan Guaido, this latest effort revealed in the Bloomberg report appears an unconventional change in tactic by the Trump administration — a possible private back-channel opening of sorts via Prince — perhaps realizing Maduro is here to stay as Washington loses confidence in Guaido's prospects.
In Caracas Prince had "proposed a business deal and urged freedom for six imprisoned Citgo executives in the meeting with Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, according to one of the people." It's possible the efforts made headway, given those employees were released to house arrest from prison last week. Rodriguez is an outspoken close ally of Maduro and is under US sanctions.
Details of just what the ultimate goal is of Prince's personal intervention remain unclear, but Maduro was reportedly briefed on the matter. The meeting was held on either Nov. 20 or 21, according to a separate report in Reuters.
Among proposals discussed included, according to the report, Prince's suggestion of "sending personnel to train the nation’s police force as well as protecting judges and political candidates to help pave the way for new presidential elections." So it's perhaps part of a new 'unofficial' US administration effort to begin slowly dealing with Caracas, in hopes of influencing a political outcome?
The other interesting context to the revelation is that VP Delcy Rodríguez is a sanctioned individual, meaning discussion of any business arrangement with her without authorization is against US law (not that Prince was every overly concerned with that).
Bloomberg speculates further on potentially what's in it for the Venezuelan government:
For the Maduro regime, holding talks with an arch-enemy like Prince makes sense because they could present an opportunity for a deal that would alleviate the financial pressure the oil-producing country is under. While Maduro has successfully managed to stave off Guaido’s bid to take control of the government, top officials have been hamstrung by crippling U.S. economic sanctions.
But interestingly, the State Department claims no knowledge of the visit, with special envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams saying in a statement, “Neither the meeting nor any offers made were on behalf of the United States Government and on their face such offers would appear to violate U.S. sanctions.”
No doubt, the administration will continue to talk regime change in public while perhaps secretly using opportunists like Prince as back-channels for concessions, as the situation remains stalemated.
But then one wonders how Caracas would ever trust someone like the former Blackwater chief. But then again he is accustomed to doing dictatorial regimes' "dirty work" from China to the UAE to that of any top bidder ultimately.