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

US to shut down its embassy in Venezuela as national blackout enters 6th day

US embassy in Caracas VenezuelaThe United States said on Tuesday that it will evacuate its last few diplomats from its embassy in Caracas, as the electricity blackout in Venezuela enters its sixth day, making it the longest energy crisis in the nation’s history. Energy shortages are not new in Venezuela. The oil-rich Latin American country of 31 million people suffered two disastrous nationwide blackouts in 2009 and a third one in 2016. But the current blackout is quickly approaching the one-week mark and is believed to have caused a minimum of 20 deaths, mostly in hospitals around the country. The majority of the population currently lacks access to fuel and banking services, while there are disruptions in critical food and water supply lines. Several instances of mass looting have been reported across the nation since Monday.

The precise cause of the blackout remains unknown, though a number of experts point to a massive outage of the Simón Bolívar Hydroelectric Plant, located in northeastern Venezuela’s Necuima Canyon, as the root of the problem. Known also as the Guri dam, the facility generates more than four fifths of Venezuela’s electricity output, and may be responsible for the nationwide blackout. The continuing crisis has exacerbated the already adversarial relationship between Washington and Caracas, as the Venezuelan government blames the US and the local opposition leader Juan Guaidó for the blackout. The government said on Monday that it would investigate Guaidó in connection with rumors of sabotage of the Guri dam facility. The announcement prompted the White House to warn that “a lot of countries would react very quickly” if Guaidó was incarcerated. On Tuesday, Washington said that the remaining 20 members of staff of its embassy in the Venezuelan capital would be evacuated by Friday. Soon afterwards, the Venezuelan government said that it had ordered the American diplomats to leave the country, so that their presence there would not be used as a pretext by Washington to launch a military invasion of the country.

Meanwhile, the blackout continued as of Tuesday night, with experts warning that the aging infrastructure of Venezuela’s energy network, coupled with the lack of specialists on the ground, made it difficult to overcome the crisis. The US-based Wired magazine explained on Tuesday that restoring the integrity of the energy grid following a large-scale blackout —a process known as a “black start”— will depend on being able to identify the root of the problem. But the absence of spare equipment and up-to-date monitoring software and hardware means that the Venezuelan state operator lacks the ability to visualize the grid and “understand the state of the system in real time”. At the same time, supporters of the Venezuelan government accuse Washington of sabotaging its oil-export sector by refusing to buy Venezuelan oil and threatening to impose sanctions on foreign states that purchase oil from Venezuela. That, they say, has deprived the country of its main source of hard currency and is makes it exceedingly difficult for Caracas to sustain the nation’s energy and food-supply networks.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 March 2019 | Permalink

Venezuelan government quells armed uprising by National Guard troops in Caracas

Bolivarian National GuardThe government of Venezuela said on Tuesday that it had quelled an armed uprising by nearly 30 members of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) in Caracas, which sparked an all-night riot in the Venezuelan capital. On Tuesday government officials announced the arrest of 27 members of the GNB who allegedly revolted against the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Several videos were posted in pro-opposition social media accounts the night before. They showed young men in military uniforms brandishing weapons and calling on all Venezuelans to rise up against the country’s government. In one video posted on Twitter, a man wearing a GNB uniform said that he and his comrades in arms were speaking out “on behalf of the people of Venezuela”. He then urged viewers to “take to the streets” and bring down the government.

Early on Tuesday, officials in the Venezuelan Ministry of People’s Defense said that the officers had raided a GNB command post in Petare, a neighborhood in northwestern Caracas. They allegedly immobilized the command post guards and stole several weapons. The rebels then made their way to Cotiza, a neighborhood that is adjacent to Petare, and is considered a stronghold of anti-government sentiment. Late on Monday a number of videos emerged on social media that showed young men clashing with riot police in Cotiza. Police forces were seen using tear gas and noise grenades, while some of the rioters built makeshift barricades using cars, dumpsters and other large objects. However, no gunshots were heard coming from either side.

By noon on Tuesday the riot had ended and it appeared that all GNB rebels had been neutralized or gone into hiding. Government sources said that all 27 rebels had been arrested and were alive, but shared no information about the precise circumstances of their capture. It is not known whether they voluntarily surrendered to the police or whether they were somehow overpowered. Defense Ministry officials said that all stolen weapons had been retrieved and described the rebels as people representing “the shadowy interests of the far right”. All 27 GNB rebels were being questioned on Tuesday and Venezuelan officials said that they would be subjected to “the full force of the law”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 23 January 2019 | Permalink

Colombia says Venezuelans caught with submachine guns planned to kill president

Duque HolmesAuthorities in Colombia said that three Venezuelans, who were arrested in Colombia’s Caribbean coast with submachine guns and explosives, were planning to assassinate President Iván Duque. The claim was aired in a video posted on Twitter by Colombia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carlos Holmes, on December 29. In the brief video, Holmes said that Colombian intelligence services had uncovered evidence of a “credible threat to the life” or President Duque. He went on to suggest that the investigation into the alleged assassination operation had gone on for “several months” with the cooperation of “foreign intelligence agencies”, which he did not name. He also urged Colombians to come forward with any information in their possession that could assist the ongoing investigation.

On December 30, several Colombian newspapers reported that Holmes’ Twitter warning had been triggered by the arrest on December 21 of two Venezuelans in Colombia’s northern city of Valledupar. The two men, identified in media reports as Pedro José Acosta and José Vicente Gómez, both 22, were found to be in possession of rifles. Guillermo Botero, Colombia’s Minister of Defense, said later that the rifles were “high-precision” and were “camouflaged”, though he did not explain what that meant. On December 26, a third Venezuelan, identified in media reports as Geiger Vásquez, 35, was arrested in the city of Barranquilla. He was reportedly carrying a bag containing an Uzi submachine gun, along with ammunition and several grenades.

Government officials said that the attempt to kill President Duque could have been sponsored by leftist rebel groups, such as the National Liberation Army (ELN), that are active in the Colombian-Venezuelan border. There were also accusations in some Colombian media that the government of Venezuela may have helped plan the alleged attempt on Duque’s life. Since assuming the Colombian presidency in August, Duque has spearheaded international efforts to impose sanctions on the leftwing Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro, who is about to begin his second term in office. Relations between the two neighboring countries have thus sunk to new lows in recent months. On Monday, the Venezuelan government said it had requested more information about the alleged assassination plot from Colombian authorities and that it would provide Bogotá with “the necessary police and intelligence cooperation” to help investigate the allegations.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 January 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