For weeks, the Venezuelan opposition has been working on a comprehensive plan to finally push President Nicolás Maduro out of office. It was said that several of his top military and civilian helpers had been persuaded to change sides while others were allowed to leave the country. There was a strong suggestion that Maduro himself could fly peacefully to Havana.
"They had a pretty busy plan," said a US opposition official. The implementation was provisionally scheduled for Wednesday, although no date was set.
On Monday, however, the plan began to fall apart.
Maduro, it seemed, got wind of it, and opposition leader Juan Guaidó responded to it. On Tuesday morning, Guaidó, after alerting the State Department, released a video claiming to be significant Venezuelan military units with him and the moment had come to rise against Maduro.
But after a day of bloody protests, the government remained intact. The Trump government blamed Russia and Cuba – Maduro's top supporters – publicly for having stayed in place and scared off expected high-level overflows.
On Wednesday, when the United States and Russia barbed, the White House held an emergency meeting of top national security advisors to consider the next steps. A major government official said that "significant progress has been made in defense matters".
Throughout the day, however, there were mixed statements about what role the US military might play in Washington's future efforts to resolve the Venezuelan crisis if any.
Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo said a peaceful solution was still desired, "but military action is possible." If necessary, the United States will do that, he told Fox Business Network.
Asked whether the US military should be used to protect Guaidó, White House national security adviser John Bolton told MSNBC that "President Trump" is clear and concise on this point: all options are open , We want a peaceful transfer of power. But we will not see Guaidó being abused by this regime.
Top Pentagon officials emphasized non-military options and said they had not been ordered to introduce troops or prepare for conflict. "We are obviously watching the situation in Venezuela very closely. The President has made it clear that all options are on the table, "said Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a statement by Congress. "To date, most of our actions have been diplomatic and economic."
Trump has shown little willingness, according to current and former aides, to plunge into Venezuela, even though he has already imposed sanctions on Cuba, which the government has accused of control of the Venezuelan military – and more threatened. Russia, the White House said in a statement Wednesday, "has to leave Venezuela" and renounce its support of the Maduro regime.
The President has occasionally considered that Bolton wants to bring him to war, and two advisors who discussed Venezuela with him said Trump often refers to Florida politics and his Doral golf club when he talks about Both said Trump would probably not approve any sort of long-term military action there.
At the same time, however, he said he had given Bolton wide powers over Venezuela.
Pushing for a more aggressive policy, Bolton has some within and Before the events on Tuesday, his meeting with General Paul Selva, the deputy chairman of Dunford, met at a meeting to tackle the ongoing Venezuelan crisis, according to several officials who knew about the exchange
The quiet Air Force General gave 997/05 / 28.html The bank made an update last week to view the Pentagon and to file a lawsuit against a risky escalation in the United States as Bolton 's aides, including Mauricio Claver – Carone, director of the Western Hemisphere in the National Security Council , repeatedly interrupted and asked for military options, said the Prime Minister officials.
Selva was annoyed at the interruptions and the style of confrontation and not at the content of any disagreements. He slammed his hand on the table and his ring hit the wood with a sharp crack. Deputy Bolton MP Charles Kupperman, who presided over the meeting, adjourned the meeting earlier than scheduled, officials said, commenting on anonymity for discussion of internal deliberations.
A senior government official said Bolton's employees were dissatisfied with Selva, who they believed did not have the expected military options for Venezuela. According to people who are familiar with the interaction, Selva believed that the confrontational style of Bolton's staff was not consistent.
In an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday, Bolton praised another military leader, Adm. Craig Faller, head of the US Southern Command, to "show the kind of attitude we need."
Faller, Bolton said, had responded to the Venezuelan threat by preparing his troops and said, "We are up and ready." The General's comment came in an interview with Foreign Policy last month.
Asked at a hearing on Wednesday whether the US military should play a role in overthrowing the Maduro government, Faller emphasized the diplomatic track.  "Our leadership was clear: this must be, should be primarily a democratic transition" Faller said, "We fully support diplomacy, and we're ready to support that effort."
While the Pentagon has developed military options for Trump, it has taken caution in internal discussions regarding the use of force.
It is to be feared that any decision to conduct a unilateral US military intervention will increase consensus between regional partners and allies would endanger Guaidó if he takes control of Maduro. Maduro has called Guaidó an American "puppet", and Venezuelans and other Latin Americans are largely skeptical of American military intervention.
At the same time, military planners are traditionally worried about operations that may be limited in their intentions, but that quickly bring them out of balance.
So far, the US military has been helping to operate hinterland logistics for aid deliveries to Colombia for the Venezuelan people, and a US Navy hospital ship sailed to neighboring Colombia to help Venezuelan refugees. The military could strengthen such operations to support the Venezuelan people and regional allies.
US. Venezuela's diplomacy has broad support from both parties in Congress, but it is unclear how many would support the offensive military action. Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) Has openly called for the use of the US military, at least to provide humanitarian assistance. The government, which has referred to the Venezuelan crisis as a national security threat, has considered referring to the Treaty of Rio, a 1947 Cold War pact with Latin American governments that allows mutual defense.
The lack of consensus came as administration was surprised and disappointed by the events on the ground.
The officials continued to express confidence that a turning point had been reached in the more than three-month-old dispute with Guaidó's statement on early Tuesday that "the end" had arrived. He called on troops to change sides and join massive street protests.
A day later, though the Venezuelan military and the Maduro government remained largely intact, Bolton said that "any slight conclusion that things are getting" normal "again is completely wrong … The situation is not
US officials said the United States did not participate directly in the opposition's secret negotiations with Maduro officials "We were aware of the efforts that began about two months ago," said one second high administrative official. "There were times when it seemed serious, and other times were not so serious."
But "the last few weeks it was clear. , , They agreed with Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López, along with the head of the Supreme Court appointed by Maduro and the commander-in-chief of his presidential guard, to change sides, the official said.
Although Guaidó, Padrino, was not officially recognized and the others were willing to sign documents declaring their loyalty to the Venezuelan constitution that the opposition-led National Assembly had invalidated Maduro's re-election last year, and others Was appointed Interim President of Guaidó on 23 January. The United States and more than 50 other countries, especially in Latin America and Europe, have also recognized it.
In return, the Venezuelan officials would keep their work and be integrated into the new administration. For those who might wish to leave the country, the United States had indirectly assured that they would not be prohibited, and they might even have access to assets stowed overseas.
Over the past two weeks, government officials said they had received indications that even Maduro himself might be willing to fly to Cuba.
On Monday, however, the opposition and the government received news that Maduro knew about the plan. Guaidó and a small group of armed men wearing military uniforms arrived at a military base in eastern Caracas on Tuesday to announce that "Operation Liberty" had begun.
"Venezuela's people," he said, take the armed forces to the streets to continue on the streets until we consolidate the already irreversible usurpation in late 1945 [Maduro’s]. "Around 6 o'clock in the morning, Bolton called Trump and his own helpers to say the announcement had come.
Early in the morning, however, Padrino appeared on live television, wore combat suits and body armor, surrounded by other military men under a large portrait of Maduro. He declared the uprising for a coup attempt and condemned demonstrators who gathered in the street. Reports of overflows and the collapse of the government are "false news".
The government, which wanted to undermine Maduro's confidence in their surroundings, decided to leave Padrino; Maikel Morena, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; and the Presidential Guard commander, Ivan Rafael Hernandez Dala, with the name that they agreed to sign constitutional documents.
When Maduro did not show up all day, Pompeo finally stated that the Venezuelan leader "had his plane ready", but this was advised against leaving Russia.
The senior government official pointed out that "difficult times prevailed for Maduro", including some failed coup attempts in the past, "he always had a plane ready. "But the officer said," The information we had was that he was seriously thinking about it, "a departure on Tuesday morning.
" Then the Russians said they should not go, "said the official who said that Russia's intervention called "council," possibly based on a reading of how the day would develop.
Anne Gearan and Carol Morello contributed to this report.