During a televised briefing Sept. 1, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro made some strong announcements: first, that he was pardoning 110 people, including political opponents who were imprisoned or exiled; second, that the United States president had ordered him killed.
"He put 15 million dollars … on my head. Donald Trump approved that I be killed, that I be killed,” Maduro said. “They are trying to move a group of snipers or to buy some snipers in Venezuela to kill me. Donald Trump decided and activated it.”
The claims are misleading.
In March, the Trump administration indicted Maduro, as well as 14 of his top officials, on drug trafficking charges. A $15 million reward was offered for any information leading to the Venezuelan president’s arrest or conviction, along with a $10 million reward for information on his inner circle members.
As Bloomberg reported, the U.S. alleged that Maduro’s government gave the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the rebel group known as FARC, authority to fly planes with drugs over Venezuelan airspace and to manufacture cocaine.
The charges carry a minimum sentence of 50 years and a maximum of life in prison. However, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan acknowledged that authorities couldn’t arrest Maduro in Venezuela.
In March, Maduro rejected the accusations.
“There’s a conspiracy from the U.S. and Colombia and they’ve given the order of filling Venezuela with violence,” he tweeted. “As Head of State I am obliged to defend the Peace and stability for all the Motherland, under any circumstance that comes our way. They could not and will not!”
Although Maduro now says otherwise, the $15 million U.S. bounty is for information leading to his arrest or conviction, not his assassination.
After Maduro was re-elected in 2018, the opposition rejected the results. In January 2019, Juan Guaido, as leader of the National Assembly, declared himself Venezuela’s legitimate president. He quickly received support from the United States and its allies.
As the Washington Post reported, for most of 2019, Trump administration officials emphasized they wanted Maduro to leave the country for exile and pledged not to pursue him. According to the Post, a senior official said last year the effort “is not about revenge” and that the U.S. "would be happy to pay the airfare.”
Efforts to obtain White House and State Department comment for this fact check were unsuccessful.
This isn’t the first time Maduro has said opponents want him killed. In August 2018, as he addressed a military parade in Caracas, two small drones flying over the event exploded – an event the government claimed was a targeted assassination attempt. Maduro blamed the opposition and Colombian government, but both denied involvement, CNN reported.
Many have questioned the government’s accounts, saying the incident was a false flag operation staged by Maduro’s government to justify the repression of the opposition. Arrests followed, and, as Bloomberg reported, Venezuela has a history of using supposed anti-government plots to pursue dissidents.
The alleged drone attack gave “some credibility to his conspiracy theories,” Peruvian writer Mirko Lauer said in the newspaper La Republica.
In July, Maduro accused Colombian President Ivan Duque of planning his assassination. "Iván Duque is training some snipers [in Colombia] to kill me," he said on TV, adding that, despite the threats, he would continue attending public events, the Spanish news agency Agencia EFE reported.
In May, a group of self-declared “freedom fighters” was captured in Venezuela in a failed attempt to overthrow Maduro. Luke Denman, a U.S. citizen and former Green Beret, was one of those captured. Another former Green Beret, Jordan Goudreau, who operated Silvercorp USA, a Florida-based private security firm, claimed responsibility for the operation.
Both the Pentagon and Trump denied involvement in the incident. Polygraph.info fact-checked Denman's claim that Trump ordered Goudreau to launch the attack, deeming it likely false. As reported, there is evidence that Silvercorp USA provided security for several Trump political rallies in 2018, but not of direct contact between Trump and Goudreau.
Reports also surfaced of Guaido’s involvement in the operation – including a copy of a contract allegedly signed between Silvercorp USA and the Venezuelan opposition, published by the Washington Post. In it, Guaido is listed as “Commander in Chief” in the chain of command for the operation, but his signature does not appear on the document. The opposition had denied signing the agreement or participating.
Maduro has long blamed the U.S. for his country’s problems. Since Trump took office in 2017, relations have turned increasingly hostile. The U.S. has imposed strict economic sanctions – freezing Venezuelan government assets in the U.S. and banning commercial transactions in the South American nation, with the aim of pressuring Maduro to step down.
In its “U.S. Relations With Venezuela” fact sheet from July, the U.S. State Department wrote that “through its assistance to the legitimate Guaido Interim Government and democratic organizations within and outside Venezuela, the United States supports the protection of human rights, the promotion of civil society, the strengthening of democratic institutions, and transparency and accountability in the country.”
But, after the U.S. imposed another round of sanctions in 2019, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said that even though sanctions did not apply to transactions on food, clothing or medicine, they were “likely to significantly exacerbate the crisis for millions of ordinary Venezuelans.”
Venezuela, once South America’s wealthiest country, has been mired in an economic, political and humanitarian crisis since 2014. Inflation is rampant and many Venezuelans rely on outside humanitarian aid to survive. The latest National Survey of Living Conditions (ENCOVI) showed that around 96 percent of Venezuelans live in poverty, when measured by income levels.