Nicolás Maduro confirmed that senior Venezuelan officials spoke with members of the White House of Donald Trump, after reporting that his second in command had negotiated his fall with the United States.
"I confirm that for months there have been contacts between senior officials of the government of Donald Trump and the Bolivarian government that I preside over – with my explicit and direct permission," said the authoritarian leader of Venezuela in a television address Tuesday evening.
"Various contacts through various channels," added Maduro.
Maduro's comments came after two US media reports claimed that Diosdado Cabello, one of the most powerful and feared men in Venezuela, had been involved in "Secret communications" with Trump officials.
On Sunday Asserted Axios that in the last few months Cabello, the 56-year-old head of the pro-Maduro constituent assembly of Venezuela, was communicating with Trump's chief adviser for Latin America, Mauricio Claver-Carone. Reportedly, some Trump officials have considered a positive signal to suggest that Maduro's circle was "gradually breaking".
The Associated Press stated that Cabello had met someone "in close contact with the Trump administration" in Caracas last month and that a second meeting was scheduled. Reportedly, the United States hoped to engage with Cabello to intensify a "knife fight" allegedly rampant at the height of the Maduro administration.
Observers of Venezuelan politics greeted those reports – apparently designed to destabilize the administration hit by Maduro's crisis by fueling paranoia in its inner circle – with skepticism.
Christopher Sabatini, a senior colleague for Latin America at the Chatham House thinktank, said: "I think what the United States is trying to do is something of a psychiatric thing., trying to shake people inside the Maduro administration ".
But on Tuesday, Maduro confirmed contact with the United States, which he painted as evidence that he was looking for ways "for President Donald Trump to really listen to Venezuela and the truth of the Bolivarian revolution of the 21st century".
At the start of the day Trump told reporters: "We are talking to various representatives of Venezuela. I do not want to say who, but we are talking at a very high level."
Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuelan expert at the Washington office in Latin America, described the reports that there were talks between Cabello and Trump officials as "a very positive sign".
"It suggests an agreement at the highest levels of the government [of Maduro] that this is unsustainable", he said about the continuous economic, political and humanitarian meltdown.
"I think what these people are looking for is some sort of guarantee [from the United States] that they won't end up in a prison cell in Miami," added Ramsey.
Maduro has fought for his political life since January when a young leader of the opposition, Juan Guaidó, declared himself the legitimate president of Venezuela and received the support of over 50 governments, including the United States and the United Kingdom.
More than four million Venezuelans have fled from their oil-rich but economically devastated nation, according to the United Nations refugee agency, with at least 1 million people leaving only last November.