Venezuelan General Ivan Hernandez, who is head of both the presidential guard and military counterintelligence, wanted to send his three-year-old son to Boston for brain surgery and needed visas for his family.
He made the request around May 2017, and after days of debate, the Trump administration rejected the request, citing seeing no point in helping a senior member of a socialist government.
That decision from Trump’s still young administration was a determining factor of its stance against president Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Venezuela.
Donald Trump rejected Venezuelan General Ivan Hernandez’s request for humanitarian visas for his family in May 2017
General Hernandez runs the presidential guard and military counter intelligence under Venezuela’s embattled President Nicolas Maduro. Hernandez pictured second from right
A letter, seen by AP, was addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela from Boston Children’s Hospital and states that Hernandez’s son had been authorized for surgery on March 14, 2017, for which the family had made a $150,000 deposit.
It states that it is ‘in the child’s best interests’ if both Hernandez and his wife were granted visas to accompany the child during what was expected to be a two-month convalescence.
That visa rejection was revealed by a former U.S. official and another person familiar with the internal discussions to AP.
After the request for humanitarian visas was rejected, a former senior Venezuelan official cooperating with U.S. law enforcement appealed to his contacts in Washington on Hernandez’s behalf.
However, once again the request fell on deaf ears, reflecting what one of the sources viewed as a lack of strategic thinking by top policymakers in the White House and State Department.
General Ivan Hernandez pictured right in the red cap next to Maduro. This week National Security Adviser John Bolton rebuked General Hernandez for backing out of a plan to overthrow Maduro
This week National Security Adviser John Bolton rebuked General Hernandez on live TV, calling him out as one of three regime insiders who backed out of a plan to topple Maduro.
It might also have been one of several missed opportunities to curry favor with Venezuela’s normally impenetrable armed forces.
The U.S. also rebuffed a back channel to the alleged ringleader of the would-be defectors, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez.
Bolton said Hernández, Padrino and Supreme Court Chief Justice Maikel Moreno chose to stick with Maduro at the moment of truth: when opposition leader Juan Guaidó appeared Tuesday on a highway overpass surrounded by a small cadre of armed troops ready for what he said was the ‘final phase’ of a campaign to rescue Venezuela’s democracy known as Operation Freedom.
Little is known about the extent of support for the plot. Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez said Thursday he had been speaking for weeks with military commanders while under house arrest. U.S. special envoy Elliott Abrams said there was even a document with the outlines of a transitional government that top officials had agreed to.
‘I am told the document is long —15 points, I think — and it talks of guarantees for the military, for a dignified exit for Maduro, and Guaidó as interim president,’ Abrams told Venezuelan online TV network VPItv.
The three officials haven’t directly denied they were in talks with the opposition, but they have reaffirmed their loyalty to Maduro and remain in their posts.
On Thursday interim president Juan Guaido called for a military uprising, demanding the military part from Maduro, but troops have remained under his control
A fourth, Gen. Manuel Figuera, head of the feared SEBIN intelligence agency, did break ranks and has since disappeared.
But some analysts doubt top military officials who have amassed immense power under Maduro, and are sanctioned by the U.S., ever seriously considered betraying him. Instead, they speculate that the opposition — and by extension, the U.S. — may have been duped by Cuban intelligence agents in Venezuela.
‘They try to buy us as if we were mercenaries,’ Padrino said Thursday in remarks alongside Maduro.
One clue to the military officers’ apparent reluctance to join any U.S.-backed plot may be found in the story of their past, failed dealings with senior American officials.
The former U.S. official and two other people agreed to discuss details of the previously undisclosed interactions on the condition they not be identified because of the sensitive nature of what were private, high-level talks inside the Trump and Obama administrations.
For years, U.S. officials tried to identify ways to engage the military, the traditional arbiter of political disputes in Venezuela. But after Hugo Chavez’s thorough scrubbing of U.S. influence in the armed forces, opportunities were limited.
That’s why, with the benefit of hindsight, Hernandez’s visa request stood out.