US lifts sanctions on Venezuelan ex-spy chief, calls on others to defect

SEBIN VenezuelaIn an effort to persuade senior members of the Venezuelan government to defect, the United States has lifted punitive financial sanctions on the country’s intelligence director, who left his post on April 30. General Christopher Figuera became director of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) in October 2018. SEBIN is Venezuela’s primary intelligence agency and has a dual domestic and international role. Much of its domestic mission is to protect and defend the Bolivarian Revolution, which forms the ideological framework of the government headed by President Nicolás Maduro. It follows that SEBIN’s employees are all trusted supporters of Venezuela’s embattled President.

On February 15 of this year, the United States government included General Figuera on a financial sanctions list of Venezuelan government officials who held senior posts in the Maduro government. But on April 30, General Figuera appeared to be one of relatively few senior Venezuelan officials to respond favorably to an open call by Juan Guaidó, the United States-supported President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, to remove Maduro from power. Figuera was reportedly denounced by Venezuelan government officials and summarily replaced by Gustavo Gonzalez Lopez, who was director of SEBIN until he was replaced by Figuera in 2018.

On Tuesday, the United States government said that it had removed General Figuera from its financial sanctions list. Speaking before reporters in Washington, US Vice President Mike Pence said that Figuera was “an example to follow” for other senior Venezuelan government officials and urged more of them to follow Figuera’s example. Pence added that the US government wanted to reward Figuera for abandoning his post and denouncing Maduro. In a subsequent statement given to the media, the US Department of the Treasury said that removal of sanctions “may be available” for all senior Venezuelan officials “who take concrete and meaningful actions to restore democratic order” in the Latin American country. The statement did not elaborate on the meaning of taking “concrete and meaningful actions”.

In a potentially related development, the Venezuelan government said on Tuesday that it had taken control of three private airfields in the vicinity of the capital city of Caracas, in order “to prevent illicit acts which would compromise the safety of civil aviation”. It is believed that General Figuera left the country with his family using a private airfield, and that the Maduro government is trying to stop others from following his example.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 May 2019 | Permalink

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Maduro fires intelligence chief amidst reports of inner circle defections

Venezuela crisisThe embattled President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, has reportedly fired his intelligence director, as news emerged early on Thursday that members of his inner circle were considering removing him from power. These reports circulated shortly after Juan Guaidó, President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, openly called on the country’s Armed Forces to remove Maduro from power. Guaidó has been recognized by over 50 countries —including the United States and much of the European Union— as the legitimate president of Venezuela. But Maduro continues to be supported by a number of powerful allies, including China and Russia, which sent troops there last month.

On Wednesday, Maduro dismissed General Christopher Figuera from the post of director of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN). SEBIN is Venezuela’s primary intelligence agency and has a dual domestic and international role. Much of its domestic mission is to protect and defend the Bolivarian Revolution, which forms the ideological framework of the country’s socialist government. Critics accuse SEBIN of operating as the Venezuelan government’s political police, and of committing scores of human rights abuses against supporters of the opposition. But it appears that Figuera responded favorably to Guaidó’s call on April 30 for an uprising against Maduro. Speaking at a rally on Tuesday, Guaidó said that the Venezuelan military “no longer back […] Maduro […]. They are backing the constitution and are for a change of government”, he said. He went on describe the movement against Maduro as “a usurpation”.

On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal claimed that Venezuelan opposition forces had been holding “secret talks” with members of Maduro’s inner circle, aimed at removing Maduro from power. Among those who held secret talks with opposition negotiators, said the paper, were Minister of Defense General Vladimir Padrino, and General Iván Rafael Hernández, head of Venezuela’s military spy agency, the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM). Meanwhile, the American-based geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor said on Wednesday that the uprising led by Guaidó appeared to be “more extensive than initial reports indicated”. According to Stratfor, members of the military and security forces “seized multiple garrisons across the country” and created “substantial cracks” in the security services and the military. Other sources, however, including Britain’s Daily Telegraph, claimed that Guaidó’s efforts were “weak” and “folded” quite quickly. By Tuesday night, said The Telegraph, several members of Guaidó’s reform movement had sought asylum in foreign embassies in Caracas, and Guaidó’s whereabouts remained unknown. Observers noted, however, that the likelihood of further violence increased as the uprising continued to unfold, and that another “major event” could take place at any moment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 May 2019 | Permalink