Southcom Boss, At FIU Forum, Insists Cuba, Russia, China Are Venezuela's Real Invaders

May 22, 2019

When we talk about security in the Americas these days, Venezuela dominates the conversation. That was the case Wednesday at Florida International University – where the top U.S. military official here addressed the debate over U.S. intervention in the Venezuela crisis.

Admiral Craig Faller heads the U.S. military’s Southern Command (Southcom) based in Doral. At FIU’s annual hemispheric security conference, Faller insisted that three of the U.S.’s principal adversaries are propping up authoritarian Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

“The invasion of Venezuela happened by the Cubans," Faller said, basing his assertion on intelligence that he did not disclose. "Maduro, his presidential guard is all Cuban...And the Russians are right there alongside – and the Chinese unfortunately are not being helpful, they’re there as well.”

The question is what the U.S. can do about it – especially since Venezuela’s economic and humanitarian catastrophe is now among the world's worst and worsening by the day.

The Trump Administration and more than 50 other countries recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president. But Guaidó has failed to achieve Maduro’s overthrow – so now he’s hinting more strongly that maybe the U.S. should intervene militarily in the crisis. President Trump says that option is “still on the table.”

Faller wouldn’t commit either way.

“My job as the military is to be ready, to be on the balls of the feet," Faller said. "And I’ve intentionally not gone into any more detail on that because it would be inappropriate. The military never gives away what we’re doing. Otherwise the enemy would know.

"What we're particularly focused on," Faller said, "is planning for when there's a legitimate government [in Venezuela], when that legitimate government needs support for their security services."

But aside from that "day after" planning, as he called it, Faller stressed the U.S. military is currently involved in getting humanitarian aid to Venezuelan refugees in South America. And he added the U.S. is already in a conflict with Russia and China for the political and economic hearts and minds of the hemisphere – from Russia's alleged cyber-hacking to China's aggressive financing and construction of ports in the region's developing countries.

“We’re at war right now," said Faller, "for ideas...in cyberspace and in the information space.”

One panel at the FIU conference specifically addressed Russia and China’s growing propaganda campaigns in Latin America – widely criticized as the brand of anti-democratic misinformation effort Russia used to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The conference was hosted by FIU's Institute for Public Policy and its Latin American and Caribbean Center.