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

 

Major suspect in Maduro assassination plot dies in captivity in Caracas

Nicolás MaduroA leading suspect in a failed attempt to kill Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro using drones, has died in mysterious circumstances while being held by the country’s intelligence agency. The attack took place on August 4, 2018, in front of the Palacio de Justicia government complex in the Venezuelan capital Caracas. That afternoon, President Maduro was giving a nationally televised speech on the occasion of the 81st anniversary of the Bolivarian National Guard. An hour after the commencement of the outdoor ceremony, Maduro’s speech was interrupted by a loud noise that appeared to come directly from above, approximately 100 yards away from the podium. The noise turned out to have been a bomb affixed on a modified, commercially available drone. Moments later, another drone exploded after crashing into a building just two blocks northeast of where the Venezuelan president was standing. Seven members of the National Guard were injured in the attack.

President Maduro, who escaped unharmed, has blamed Colombia-based far-right extremists for the attack, and has named former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as their leader. But the Colombian government has rejected these allegations and has demanded to see proof. Throughout August, several people were arrested by Venezuelan authorities and charged with treason in connection with the assassination plot. Approximately 30 people have been named as participants in the plan. Among them was Fernando Albán, a 56-year-old critic of Maduro, who was serving as an opposition city councilor in Caracas. Althouth his arrest was announced on Friday, there were no reports about his fate over the weekend. On Monday, however, the government said that Albán had died after committing suicide. A subsequent report said that the 56-year-old had died after throwing himself out of a window located on the tenth floor of the headquarters of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service, where he was being held. Later on Monday, Nestor Luis Reverol, Venezuela’s Minister of Interior, said that Albán voluntarily jumped out of the window as he was being transported to court in order to be formally charged.

On Monday night, Venezuela’s Attorney General Tarek William Saab said during a television interview that Albán had been given permission to go to the bathroom and used it as an opportunity to kill himself. But critics of the government see the August 4 assassination attempt as a false-flag operation orchestrated by the Maduro administration to justify a new crackdown on the opposition. They claim that Albán was murdered and that it would have been impossible for him to throw himself out of a window given the security precautions that are in place at the Bolivarian Intelligence Service building. Meanwhile, Albán’s attorney, Joel Garcia, dismissed the Venezuelan government’s explanation of his client’s death as “totally false” and doubted that he would have been allowed to go to the bathroom unaccompanied.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 October 2018 | Permalink

Trump officials ‘discussed secret coup plans’ with Venezuelan army officers

Nicolas MaduroUnited States President Donald Trump authorized American officials to attend secret meetings held by Venezuelan military officers who conspired to launch a military coup against President Nicolás Maduro. The claim was made on Saturday by The New York Times, which cited “interviews with 11 current and former American officials” and information from an unnamed Venezuelan former military commander. The former commander claims to have attended the secret talks, which allegedly were held over several meetings during the past year.

According to The Times, the meetings were sparked by a comment made by President Trump in August of 2017, that he did not rule out a “military option” to “restore calm” in Venezuela. That comment reportedly prompted at least three groups of Venezuelan military officers opposed to the rule of President Maduro to reach out to the White House. One of these groups, said The Times, had one of its representatives contact American diplomats in an unnamed European country. That outreach led to “a series of covert meetings abroad”, according to The Times, the first of which took place in the fall of 2017. The meetings continued until recently, and were held with a number of Venezuelan military officers who claimed to represent the views of several hundred members of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces. The rebellious officers allegedly told the US government’s representative that they planned to launch a military coup aimed at deposing President Maduro and installing a transitional government that would guarantee peaceful elections. They reportedly asked the White House representative to supply them with secure communications equipment, which they could use to coordinate their operations.

However, the White House eventually decided that backing a military coup in Venezuela would be too risky due to the potential for spiraling bloodshed. It thus distanced itself from the plan. Additionally, some US government officials were alarmed by the composition of the rebel officers: at least one of them was a serious violator of human rights who had previously been accused by the US of involvement of participating in drugs smuggling and having close links with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which is on Washington’s official list of foreign terrorist organizations. Eventually the plotters canceled their plans for a coup, having assessed it would be met by fierce resistance by pro-Maduro forces.

The Times reached out to the White House, which rejected the paper’s report, saying it was important to “dialogue with all Venezuelans who demonstrate a desire for democracy”. But it refused to respond to specific questions about the allegations of a possible coup in Venezueal with Washington’s backing. President Maduro has already blamed the US for two attempts to assassinate him in the past 18 months, with the most recent one involving the use of an exploding drone. In 2002, Maduro’s predecessor, the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, was briefly deposed by a military putsch. Chávez was able to beat back the rebels with the help of his civilian and military supporters, and then accused Washington of having had direct involvement with the attempt to remove him from power. The US has strongly denied Chávez’s charges.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 September 2018 | Permalink

Venezuela expels US diplomats as Hugo Chávez is pronounced dead

Hugo ChavezBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The government of Venezuela moved yesterday to expel two American diplomats from the country, shortly before officially pronouncing the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. The expulsions are seen by some as attempts to curtail communication between United States officials and the Venezuelan opposition in the aftermath of Chávez’s death. In a speech televised live on Venezuelan television on Tuesday, Vice President Nicolás Maduro said US Air Force attaché Colonel David Delmonaco, who was stationed at the American embassy in Venezuelan capital Caracas, would be expelled. “Mr. David Delmonaco has 24 hours to pick up his belongings and leave this country”, said Maduro, who is widely reputed to succeed Chávez. He added that the American attaché had been engaged in efforts “to destabilize the country”, but did not elaborate on the allegation. Shortly afterwards, Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs Elias Jaua told a press conference that a second US Air Force attaché, who remains unnamed, had been declared persona non grata and would be expelled from the country along with Delmonaco. Later on the same day, US government spokesman Colonel Todd Breasseale confirmed the diplomatic expulsions. He told journalists that the US was “aware of the allegations made by Venezuelan Vice President Maduro over state-run television in Caracas”, adding that he was in a position to confirm that “our Air Attache Colonel David Delmonaco, is en route back to the United States”. But the US Department of State said it “completely reject[ed] the Venezuelan government’s claim that the United States is involved in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuelan government”. Read more of this post