Leaked audio of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reveals that Venezuelan opposition to President Nicolás Maduro is more fractured than previously known, and efforts by the United States to coordinate them have proven extremely difficult, according to the Washington Post.
Recorded last week during a closed-door meeting with Jewish leaders in New York, Pompeo also revealed that the United States was "trying to support various religious...institutions to get the opposition to come together," but that the effort to keep the opposition united "has proven devilishly difficult."
"The moment Maduro leaves, everybody’s going to raise their hands and [say], ‘Take me, I’m the next president of Venezuela.’ It would be forty-plus people who believe they’re the rightful heir to Maduro," he added.
Pompeo blamed the failed April 30 military coup on disarray among the opposition, and maintained that Maduro is being controlled by foreign backers, primarily Cuba.
"You should know, [Maduro] is mostly surrounded by Cubans," said Pompeo. "He doesn’t trust Venezuelans a lick. I don’t blame him. He shouldn’t. They were all plotting against him. Sadly, they were all plotting for themselves."
Pompeo's candid remarks represent a "sharp departure from the Trump administration’s official line touting the unity and strength of the opposition led by Juan Guaidó, the National Assembly leader recognized by some 60 countries as interim president," according to the Post.
"This is the first senior official I’ve heard be so publicly candid about the opposition’s weakness and how it may make bringing democracy back to Venezuela so much harder," according to CFR Venezuela expert, Shannon O'Neil.
"It is a sobering but accurate view," she added. "They remain divided over how to take on the Maduro regime — whether or not to enter into dialogue, whether or not to engage with the military, whether or not to run a presidential candidate or boycott elections. They don’t even retweet each other."
The leaked audio comes from a surprisingly frank meeting Pompeo held with Jewish leaders last week in which he also delivered a blunt assessment of the Trump administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan.
During the private meeting, Pompeo expressed hesitation about answering particularly sensitive questions, saying “someone’s probably got a tape recorder on, so I won’t say.”
That prompted a leader of the gathering to say, “I want to emphasize that this meeting is off the record.” -Washington Post
Pompeo also told the Jewish leaders 'off the record' how difficult it would be to manage Venezuela even if Maduro is ousted.
"Maduro’s departure is important and necessary but completely insufficient," said Pompeo - remarks which Venezuela expert Geoff Ramasay of the Washington Office on Latin America said was "absolutely true."
"The sad truth is that too many in the opposition are more interested in setting themselves up to be the Nelson Mandela figure than in finding a pragmatic path forward."