Colombian spy chief resigns over fake dossier that linked militants to Venezuela

Comando Conjunto de InteligenciaColombia’s military spy chief has resigned, after the Colombian president was found to have misused intelligence at a United Nations speech to blame Venezuela for allegedly aiding paramilitary groups. For many years, authorities in Bogotá have accused Venezuela of aiding armed groups such as the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). These groups have been engaged in a decades-long guerrilla war against the Colombian state. In 2017, the largest of these groups, the FARC, laid down its weapons and signed a peace treaty with the Colombian government. But the ELN has refused to follow suit, while a number of hardline FARC leaders recently announced that they would be resuming their armed struggle against the Colombian authorities.

In recent months, the rise of Venezuela’s Western-supported opposition leader Juan Guaidó has further-fueled tensions between Colombia and Venezuela. Bogotá has come out in support of Guaidó, while many anti-government Venezuelans, some of them armed, have sought refuge in Colombia. Colombia rejects Venezuela’s claims that it is giving shelter to terrorists and argues instead that it is providing humanitarian aid to Venezuelan refugees. In turn, it accuses Caracas of sheltering ELN and FARC guerrillas, a claim that the Venezuelan government strongly denies.

Last week, during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Colombian President Iván Duque unveiled a dossier of evidence that purportedly proved beyond doubt Venezuela’s collusion with Colombian paramilitaries. Duque told the United Nations gathering that the collusion was supervised by no other than the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. But within hours of Duque’s speech, reporters who scrutinized the dossier found that much of the photographic evidence in it had been downloaded from the Internet. Moreover, the photographs were not taken in Venezuela, as Duque claimed in his speech, but in Colombia.

The revelations have dominated the news headlines in Colombia and Venezuela in the past week, with the Colombian government engaging in damage control. On Monday, General Oswaldo Peña, Colombia’s military intelligence chief, resigned over the fake dossier. General Peña directed the Comando Conjunto de Inteligencia (Joint Intelligene Command) of the Colombian Armed Forces, which was seen as the primary spy agency behind the information contained in the dossier. In his resignation letter, General Peña wrote that “as a general of the [Colombian] Republic” he was fully aware that he needed to take responsibility for his activities and the activities of his subordinates. President Duque has not commented on the general’s resignation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 October 2019 | Permalink

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Spanish court rejects US request to extradite Venezuelan ex-spy chief

Hugo CarvajalSpain has refused to extradite Venezuela’s former spy chief to the United States, where he is wanted for drug-running. The decision is also an intelligence setback for Washington, as the former spy, Hugo Carvajal, is reputed to possess a “treasure trove” of inside information on the Venezuelan government. Carvajal is a retired general, a former diplomat, and a member of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s inner circle. From 2004 to 2011, under Chávez’s tutelage, Carvajal headed the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM). In 2008 the US named Carvajal as a major facilitator of international drugs trafficking and imposed financial sanctions on his assets around the world. Washington accused Carvajal of assisting the paramilitary group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) transport drugs from Latin America to Mexico and from there to the US.

In 2014, the US government officially charged Carvajal with orchestrating a shipment of 1,200lbs of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico. Washington also charged Carvajal with supplying FARC drug traffickers with Venezuelan passports bearing fake names, which they used to travel internationally to avoid detection. In February of this year, Carvajal publicly unexpectedly denounced Maduro and sided with his arch-nemesis, Juan Guaido, the President of the National Assembly of Venezuela. Carvajal urged the Venezuelan armed forces to stop siding with Maduro and support the US-backed Guaido as Venezuela’s acting president. In April of this year, Carvajal was arrested in Spain. Soon afterwards, the US Department of Justice filed a formal request for the former spy chief’s extradition to the US. An anonymous US official hinted at the time that Carvajal may have willingly given himself up to Spanish police to express his desire to cooperate with the US.

On Monday, however, Spain’s National Court (the country’s top criminal court) announced that Carvajal would not be extradited to the US. The former spy chief was released minutes after the court made its decision known. A court spokesman told reporters that a formal ruling and justification would be released “later”, but an official document has yet to be published. Carvajal’s lawyers told the court that the US request to have him extradited was politically motivated by the administration of US President Donald Trump. It is possible that the court may have sided with that view. There are also rumors that Carvajal may have agreed to cooperate with Spanish intelligence in return for receiving political asylum in Spain. The US Department of Justice has not commented on the case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 September 2019 | Permalink

Venezuelan paramilitary groups in Colombia prepare to launch cross-border raids

Venezuelan defectorsGroups of Venezuelan expatriates are reportedly forming armed militias in Colombia and say they are preparing to launch cross-border attacks to topple the government of President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas. It is believed that over a million Venezuelans have crossed the border into Colombia since 2016, when the ongoing economic crisis in Venezuela began to deepen. Among them are at least 1,400 members of various branches of Venezuela’s Armed Forces. Many of these defectors have declared their support for Juan Guaidó, the United States-supported President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, who has publicly called on the country’s Armed Forces to remove Maduro from power. According to a May 28 report by the Reuters news agency, some of these defectors are forming militias in Colombia and say they are preparing to launch cross-border attacks into Venezuela.

Reuters reporters spoke recently to eight Venezuelan defectors at an undisclosed location near the border between Colombia and Venezuela. The defectors said they represented a militia of 150 men, all of whom were had defected from the Venezuelan police force, army and intelligence services. One of the men identified himself as Eddier Rodriguez, 37, and said he now works as a private security guard in the Colombian city of Bogotá. He told Reuters that all 150 members of his militia were “willing to give our lives if necessary” to topple President Maduro. He added that his militia members had managed to arm themselves with handguns and were raising money to purchase more weapons and explosives. Rodriguez also claimed that his militia had been in contact with several Venezuelan “resistance groups” in Colombia, implying that his militia was not the only group of its kind. According to Rodriguez, his militia plans to coordinate with other similar groups to launch “Operation Venezuela”, an all-out cross-border attack against Venezuela, with the participation of “garrisons in Venezuela [which were] ready to fight once the operation began”.

Reuters said it was unable to independently verify the eight men’s claims about their militia group and other such groups in Colombia. However, reporters said they spoke with Victor Bautista, the Colombian Foreign Ministry’s director for border security, who assured them that the Colombian government “totally rejected” any attempts by armed groups to attack Venezuela. These groups would be considered “paramilitary organizations and would be detained by authorities If they were found”, Bautista told Reuters. The news agency also cited an anonymous Colombian intelligence official, who said that Colombia’s intelligence services had verified the existence of a number of Venezuelan paramilitary groups in the country. However, they “could not act against them because they had not yet committed any crimes”, he said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 May 2019 | Permalink

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

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

 

Venezuelan ex-spy chief with ‘treasure trove of intel’ on Maduro arrested in Spain

Hugo CarvajalThe former director of Venezuela’s military spy agency, who is wanted in the United States for facilitating international drug trafficking, has been arrested in Spain and may be extradited to Washington. Hugo Carvajal is a retired general and former diplomat, who was a member of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s inner circle. From 2004 to 2011, under Chávez’s tutelage, Carvajal headed the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM). But in 2008, the US named Carvajal as a major facilitator of international drugs trafficking and imposed financial sanctions on his assets around the world. Washington accused Carvajal of assisting the paramilitary group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) transport drugs from Latin America to Mexico and from there to the US.

In 2014, the US government officially charged Carvajal with orchestrating a shipment of 1,200lbs of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico. Washington also charged Carvajal with supplying FARC drug traffickers with Venezuelan passports bearing fake names, which they used to travel internationally to avoid detection. In 2014, Carvajal was arrested by authorities in Aruba, a Dutch overseas territory in Latin America, where he was serving as Venezuela’s consul general. But, to Washington’s dismay, he was released after the Dutch government ruled that his diplomatic immunity gave him immunity from prosecution. Following his release, Carvajal returned to Venezuela, where he was given a hero’s welcome by Chávez’s successor, President Nicolás Maduro. It came as a shock, therefore, when in February of this year Carvajal posted a video on social media in which he denounced Maduro and sided with his arch-nemesis, Juan Guaido, the President of the National Assembly of Venezuela. Carvajal’s issued his video a few weeks after Guaido declared himself president of Venezuela, citing powers afforded to him by the country’s constitution. He has since been openly supported by the United States and dozens of other Western countries. In his video, Carvajal urged the Venezuelan armed forces to stop siding with Maduro and support Guaido as Venezuela’s acting president.

The BBC reported that, shortly after Carvajal’s arrest in Spain, the US Department of Justice filed a formal request for the former spy chief’s extradition to the US. But the Reuters news agency cited an unnamed US government official who said that Carvajal was in possession of a “treasure trove” of intelligence about Maduro’s administration. The US official hinted that Carvajal may have willingly given himself up to Spanish police to express his desire to cooperate with the US. He is scheduled to appear before Spain’s High Court on Saturday. The court has 24 hours following Carvajal’s arrest to rule whether he will be extradited or freed from detention.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 April 2019 | Permalink

Moscow confirms arrival of Russian troops in Venezuela

Russian planes CaracasRussian media reports have confirmed that an airplane carrying 100 Russian troops arrived in Caracas on Saturday, causing tensions to rise between Washington and Moscow over the deepening crisis in Venezuela. The arrival of the Russian troops in the Venezuelan capital was first reported on Saturday morning by Venezuelan reporter Javier Mayorca, who said on Twitter that two Russian military airplanes had landed in Caracas. The reporter said that an Antonov An-124 Ruslan cargo plane belonging to the Russian Air Force could be seen on the tarmac of the Simón Bolívar International Airport in the Venezuelan capital. Another, smaller aircraft, also bearing the Russian flag on its fuselage, landed shortly afterwards, said Mayorca.

Within hours, several Venezuelan media reports appeared to confirm Mayorca’s claims, some even posting photographs of the two Russian planes surrounded by what appeared to be uniformed Russian soldiers. The BBC reported that the Russian cargo plane had delivered 100 Russian troops and 35 tons of military equipment. The force was led by General Vasily Tonkoshkurov, commander of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces, according to the BBC. Later on Saturday, the Russian government-owned news agency Sputnik confirmed that Russian troops had arrived in Caracas. Citing anonymous “diplomatic sources”, Sputnik said the Russian troops had been sent to Caracas in order “to fulfil technical military contracts” and “to take part in consultations […] on defense industry cooperation” with Venezuelan officials. It added that there was “nothing mysterious” about the visit and that it was “related to [military] contracts that had been signed by the two countries years ago”.

Russia has supported Venezuela militarily, economically and diplomatically ever since 1999, when Hugo Chávez became president. The recent political crisis in the Latin American country, which has prompted a direct diplomatic intervention by Washington, has brought Caracas and Moscow closer together, as Russia has strongly opposed efforts by the United States to bring down the government of Nicolás Maduro. Earlier this year, Russia sent two Tu-160 long-range bomber aircraft to take part in a military exercise organized by the Venezuelan government.

On Monday, Washington said that the United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov. Pompeo told his Russian counterpart that Moscow should “cease its unconstructive behavior” and warned him that the United States would “not stand idly by as Russia exacerbated tensions” in Venezuela. Late on Monday, Sputnik quoted a “diplomatic source” as saying that that the “visit of Russian military personnel to Venezuela [was] in no way connected to the statements of the United States on potential intervention in Venezuela”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 March 2019 | Permalink