Why did Venezuela become such a high priority under the Trump Administration?
At the national national security council a position during which he played a key role in designing u._s. Policy toward venezuela one spent most of his career in various government assignments related to latin america. I had a chance to sit down with one to discuss the crisis that has unfolded in venezuela and what it means. We'll be right back with that discussion. After a quick break i'm michael morale and this is intelligence matters one welcome to intelligence matters. It is great to have you on the show and most importantly. It's great to see you again. Thank you michael good morning. I remember having the best mojto of my life with you in a bogota restaurant. I don't know probably six or seven years ago. It was served in a bowl is but i don't think we can talk about the rest of the story. No no it's <hes> yes <hes> andrei race d._c. I remember that place a large board yet lawrence gordon yes yes so on. You've retired from government sir. You spent the last part of your career at the the national security council in the early days of the trump administration. How did you end up at the <hes>. Fortuitously it was the front office. <hes> the state department was looking for somebody and as was the white house the predecessor in the position <hes> had parted after a very brief time they're less than a month and and i had been interviewed previously for the job general mcmaster at her to me. I thought it was going in for a for an interview and instead he pitched me and i ended up there i and in less than thirty days. He's a great guy. Isn't he. Yeah i i respect him. A lot. Gentlemen master didn't know me from adam gave me great opportunity in in his style. He recognizes ignites talent and brings it and let's flourish. Let's dig into venezuela. Which is the issue that i really wanna talk to you about. Wailer was not a high priority. I already for the obama administration. I was there i know but it became one for the trump administration. Why did that happen. How did that happen. How did it go from fairly low priority to high priority. You know it's an interesting question. I would say that we almost went almost two decades of uneven attention to venezuela even before the obama administration but i have no idea why president trump chose venezuela as an issue. It's authentic. It comes from him. It was not something that was briefed or coach to him by a member of his foreign policy staff. It's something he believed in. There are some issues like that. He's that he absolutely is high hi to and is authentic immigration drugs and venezuela. Is it the humanitarian peace. Do you think he was was struck. When during syrian president assad used serum gas in the president was so taken with the pictures of the dead children if it was humanitarian piece in venezuela or if somebody eighty had talked to him about it. It's just it's interesting to me. They don't want almost came out of nowhere. I don't wanna be trite but he did know venezuela from before through through is connections to the miss universe pageant tree and venezuela of course being a producer of miss universe's and takes pride in in the pageantry and so he had been there before and had a connection through that maybe he saw the slow deterioration of the conditions of venezuela so one. How would you describe u._s. Interests in venezuela. Why should americans care. Is this just a humanitarian issue you or is this a national security issue as well and i'll tell you i was at a dinner last night where we were talking about venezuela and one of the people they are said and i disagree with this. I'm interested to know what you're gonna say that. This is not a national security issue. This is only a humanitarian issue russian. What's your sense well. I'd say there's a what i call the trifecta of interest in in venezuela by the united states. I it very much a human rights rights issue. He goes to the heart of what we believe in and these issues of human rights violations or the violation of democracy is what drives a lot of the u._s. Interests and then finally it is security issues a national security issue from the point of view of stability in the region and the inviting those actors from outside of the region who have been involved all the issues of venezuela for a long time russia china ron come to mind and so it's very much of interest to us as a student of democracy. I'd point out that when i started in the region in the eighties most of the countries were dictatorships mostly right wing dictatorships except tellingly venezuela venezuela was a very stable democracy in a dedicated indicated self for a better part of a decade or two to help other countries reached democracy so to see venezuela a slip back into a dictatorship is particularly hurtful. Can you describe the situation inside venezuela today. Absolutely it's a failed state. That's that's the best way to put it. It's a place where nothing functions and what little functions does so through corruption. It's a place where almost everything you can point to his failing. That means means the banking system employment pollution. If you wanna talk about something that most people have a focused on but tremendous environmental effects of what's taking place in bend swell shortage of drinking water of course <hes> energy security public security almost everything you can point to them as well as an example of the collapse of that is you hear about it as a shortage of medicine and the impact that has as well what about refugees talk about refugees a little bit. I'm really paying to see the number <music> of swans and have leftover period of time that only the recent migration issuer <hes> of venezuelans but it actually predates predates that about four years back. We have a little over four million venezuelans living outside of as well as <hes> a result of that initial movement and in columbia in particular. We have almost one point eight million venezuelans invu- in columbia. If you wanna talk about what kind of stress at places on a neighboring country entry just think that's about three times the population of washington d._c. And that's not to speak of the populations of the venezuelans in panama on of course brazil and ecuador approve chile argentina primarily and those who departed earlier to places like italy and spain portugal it says refugees ages in the immediate neighborhood that creates risks does other countries right and then a stress on their ability to respond imagine if you're columbia's already a tough for you to provide <hes> education medical services to your own population just coming out of sixty year civil war than have to extend that even more to an an additional one point eight billion people so one. Let's keep the discussion going on current situation. Why do you think maduro has survived. You know when you have an economy cratered people fleeing the country by the millions as you noted and what seems like a vast majority the country actually despising him. Why is he been able to hang on. I think that's the definition of of a dictatorship there through an abusive power our and the use of might to stay in power and of course using the instruments that government to suppress democratic expression interestingly enough maduro enduro comes to power tapped by his predecessor hugo chavez to replace him handpicked successor. Here's an individual who did not have the grassroots support for a position like like that and and certainly not within the leadership chavez mo so it's a little bit of an aberration and his inner circle is quite small tight and so part of the reason he's remained ain't empowers because others permit him to remain in power. He's got a number of rivals and there is this very delicate balance that allows <hes> individual like madrid to stay in there and let's not forget of course it madero has a very close relationship to the cuban government that allows him of course instant area of support and legitimacy that substitutes the lack of support within his own party cuban support matter to him. How important is that. I think it's invaluable to him. It's not it's just not giving him advice. He takes advice from the cubans and a little bit of a security blanket and of course they're critical members of his security team bodyguard force in palo security. If it weren't for the cubans i think <hes> madero would be <hes> further weakened gained and it's not just him it's him and his inner circle have been born of cuban influence maduro studied in cuba ideological studies if you will and he does have a base of support curious because well. He is very tight with the cubans. He's not especially close arro- castro. I don't think that personally like each other but there's you you know there's a big splitting cuban right. He's more aligned with the further. Hardliners graduated school. What about the russians and what role did the russians play how important you know it's a curious role that the russians play in venezuela it there is no there are no historical ties between venezuela and russia this. This is a relatively recent phenomenon invited through chavez's desire to to have a counterbalance to the u._s. Influence so he bites the russians he invites the the use the purchase of russian military equipment communications equipment doctrine and something that is really a a foreign <hes> import into an sweater he he does that also as a way to provide some regional balance and the russians love it right the russians come in and they get to put their thumb in the eye of the united states a little bit of a counterbalance to the u._s. His interest and involvement in issues like the crimea for example or even syria one. I wanna ask you about <hes> one guido the the opposition leader what can you tell us about him and his movements and where that stands today. One wando is recent phenomenon in politics in venezuela in a welcome one. Here's an individual that's the opposite of a lot of other venezuelan and figures. He's not a tired figure. He represents a youthful outlook. He <hes> i would say that even a socio economically and culturally he reflects likes war of the venezuelan typical venezuelan and he's got a great story behind him so he he's selected to be the president of the national assembly early and he shows up and all of a sudden he takes all that energy youth enthusiasm and commitment and he turns it into something and be between that and the support of the other opposition parties. He's able to really change things around. We were in a in a low point and trying to encourage the regime change change its ways it's behavior and to move towards democracy and he he <hes> rather quickly moved in there got the support of the other parties became a tremendous this natural leader and galvanized the country and so what we have here is a surprise. I don't think anyone expected this sort of thing. He's come through strong and he's gotten the support of. I guess it's fifty four countries now and that's not an insignificant thing so one we we seem to be stuck at the moment. The kind of picture i have is that both madero in and guido hanging by their fingernails. How does this standoff end. And what role do you think the u._s. Should be playing well. They're they're few options and even fewer options after the failed. Let's call it coup attempt of thirty the april i think most everyone was a loser as a result of that event and now we have talks promoted by norway away taking place in barbados. I think that they're only a few ways out. It's got to be negotiated way out and i don't. I don't think conditions are are ready for something like that. The regime has become quite good at using talks and mediation negotiation to simply kick the can down the road to perpetuate themselves in power and and in the case of the opposition <hes> quite frankly. They've <hes> in these negotiations. They've gotten a short end of the stick time and time again so the regime is pretty practiced at eh abusing the issue of negotiation now. Thankfully norwegians have a long long experience in this but i don't think the conditions are there yet. You've got to provide the right confidence-building building measures so that you know that this time the re- regime really is serious and will abide by negotiations things they have proven to do in the past and <hes> at at the norwegians agents can nudge them in the right direction so one options negotiations a second of course is something that is unstated a largely which the international community probably would prefer a some sort of coup something like the failed thirty april event something that allows faction the military two in a bloodless suffered push away the toughest aspects of the regime and create a transitional government where everyone gets sit at the table and move the country back into democracy. The problem is at thirty april. The fact that it's a failed event probably makes that less likely and what makes it more likely as probably a palace coup the only winners on thirty april the military and they've probably now in a position to stage a coup or they could remain in power without inviting important members of the opposition or really only the ones that they would like to co op the thirdly something that's had a lot less talk lately and is a