The Irish Times Highlights Key Role of Cuban Spies in Keeping Venezuelan Regime in Power Reply

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaidó waves to supporters at a rally against President Nicolás Maduro’s government in Caracas. Photograph: Carlos Barria

Maduro Holds on to Power Despite Domestic and Global Pressure

Rallies support incumbent and rival Guaidó, as Venezuela’s army backing may be on wane

Tom Hennigan, The Irish Times

Rival presidents led rival mass rallies in Venezuela this weekend as the country’s political stand-off intensified with embattled President Nicolás Maduro backing a plan to move against the last bastion of the opposition after its leader, Juan Guaidó, declared himself interim president on January 23rd.

Speaking at a rally to commemorate 20 years in power for his populist Chavismo movement, Maduro once again ruled out stepping aside and holding new presidential elections as demanded by most countries in the Americas and the European Union.

But he backed a proposal by his own United Socialist Party of Venezuela to bring forward to this year elections for the national assembly, the country’s only institution controlled by the opposition.

“They want to bring forward elections? Let’s have elections!” said a defiant Maduro, whose government has been widely denounced for blatant poll-rigging in recent years.

Meanwhile at a rival rally in Caracas, Guaidó renewed his calls for the military to abandon the regime on the same day that an air force general became the most senior serving officer to recognise him as president. In a video posted on Saturday on social media, Francisco Yánez said a democratic transition was imminent. “People of Venezuela, 90 per cent of the armed forces are not with the dictator,” he added.

Cuban intelligence

Venezuela’s high command has declared its loyalty to Maduro but there are increasing signs of splits within the military, with the regime believed to be ever more reliant on a spy network run by Cuban intelligence officers to identify and neuter attempted insurrections against the regime by lower-ranking officers.

Guaidó called on supporters to keep up the pressure on Maduro to quit what he classified as his “usurpation” of the presidency by holding more rallies this month. He also announced humanitarian aid from the United States would soon be arriving via Colombia, Brazil and an unnamed Caribbean island and called on soldiers manning the frontier to let it enter the country. Maduro denounced the aid operation as a pretext for a military intervention by the US.

Article continues here:  Cuban Spies Prop Up Venezuela Government

 

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Alleged Cuba-Venezuela Spy Network Targets Maduro’s Opposition in Chile 3

 María Laura Liscano speaks out against the Castro regime’s harassment of the Venezuelan opposition in Chile. (Terra)


María Laura Liscano speaks out against the Castro regime’s harassment of the Venezuelan opposition in Chile. (Terra)

Activist María Liscano Condemns Espionage under Diplomatic Cover

Belén Marty, PanAm Post

On Tuesday, Venezuelan activist María Laura Liscano denounced Cuban espionage against opponents of the Nicolás Maduro regime who reside in Chile, following Monday’s report by Chilean television station Mega.

Liscano calls herself a spokesperson for Venezuelans in Chile, where she has lived the past four years since leaving her job as an intelligence analyst for the Venezuelan government.

The Mega report focuses on a Cuban national who claims to be an agent for a Cuban diplomat in Santiago, Chile. The individual claims the diplomat ordered him to infiltrate the leadership of Venezuelan opposition groups operating in Chile, and report on their activity.

“The espionage is coordinated by the Cuban embassy, and is directed at certain sectors in Chile that oppose Maduro. This is not the first time this has happened. In 2010, a Cuban leader in Chile denounced a similar practice being carried out against the Cuban community,” Liscano said.

The Venezuelan activist told the PanAm Post that she was surprised by the revelation that Cuban agents were focused on her: “It’s one thing to recognize that you are exposing yourself, but the reality [that they are spying on me] is another thing entirely.”

“We always knew that we were vulnerable to espionage; there have been many times when we were protesting, and people who are opposed to us would come and take pictures,” she said.

Liscano said she represents a nonpartisan Venezuelan community that share the same concerns expressed by student protesters who took to the streets in Venezuela in February.

Feature continues here (with video and audio clips): PanAm Post

 

 

 

 

Cuban Influence Falls Short – Study Finds Venezuelan Public Favors Washington Over Havana Reply

PRC-LogoDespite rocky diplomatic relations, Venezuelan public prefers U.S. to Cuba

By Kat Devlin, Pew Research Center

Venezuela has had a rough year. With inflation topping 60% in May, new talk of raising the country’s incredibly low gas prices and shortages of goods ranging from coffee to toilet paper, the socialist government is reaching out to allies in an effort to alleviate the country’s pervasive economic problems. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan public has very different views about two of the nation’s most important trade partners: the United States and Cuba.

Venezuela’s socialist leader Nicolás Maduro is no fan of the U.S., but that doesn’t mean Venezuelans take the same view. According to Pew Research Center’s Spring 2014 global survey, Venezuelans have generally positive attitudes concerning the U.S. At a rate of two-to-one, the Venezuelan public holds a more favorable (62%) than unfavorable (31%) view of their biggest trade partner. This represents a nine point uptick in support since 2013, when 53% shared positive feelings toward the U.S. Younger Venezuelans are especially likely to view the U.S. favorably – 66% of those ages 18-29 express a positive opinion. Still, a majority of those ages 50 and older (56%) also perceive the U.S. favorably.

The biggest disagreements about the U.S. break along ideological lines. Venezuelans who lean to the right of the political spectrum see the U.S. in an overwhelmingly positive light (84%), while only 12% have a negative opinion. Venezuela’s political left, which aligns with President Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela, tends to be more critical of the U.S. (62% unfavorable v. 34% favorable). This is none too surprising given the tumultuous relationship between Maduro and the U.S. in recent months and the many years of tension between Washington and Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez. Chávez, who blamed the U.S. for organizing a coup against him in 2002, often stoked anti-American sentiment with colorful quips, including claims that the U.S. “invented technology to spread cancer” to South American leaders and referring to then-President George W. Bush as “the devil,” “a donkey” and “a drunkard.” Despite this, a majority of moderates (63%) see America favorably.

Findings continue here:  Venezuelans prefers U.S.

 

U.S.-Cuba Relations May Be Thawing 1

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) reaches out to shake hands as he welcomes Uruguay's President Jose Mujica (L) before their meeting in the Oval Office in Washington May 12, 2014.  (REUTERS/Jonathan Erns)

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) reaches out to shake hands as he welcomes Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica (L) before their meeting in the Oval Office in Washington May 12, 2014. (REUTERS/Jonathan Erns)

By STRATFOR Global Intelligence

A breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba relations may be in the offing. On June 14, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica delivered a letter from U.S. President Barack Obama to Cuban President Raul Castro, according to Uruguayan media June 20, containing an offer to begin talks on a variety of issues, most prominently Washington’s longstanding economic embargo. According to Uruguayan media, Obama had asked Mujica to help him improve relations with the island nation when Mujica was in Washington in mid-May. If the report is true, the transaction could be the first step toward reconciliation.

Cuba certainly has its reasons for entertaining such an offer. The country’s main benefactor, Venezuela, may no longer be in a position to support the Cuban economy. In fact, Venezuela is in the throes of a protracted economic crisis, which is owed partly to declining oil production. Since Cuba depends heavily on Venezuelan oil exports, it may soon have to look elsewhere for its energy needs. Castro was supposedly interested in Obama’s offer, provided that it did not necessarily impose conditions on Cuba, but given the situation in Venezuela, Castro would demand that the embargo be lifted in any negotiations.

Normalized ties would also benefit the United States, which is concerned with Russia’s attempts to improve relations with Latin America. Though the Cold War is over, Washington still does not want any country, let alone Russia, to establish too strong a presence in a country as geographically close as Cuba. That Havana is so close to Caracas may also help the United States make some political overtures to the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, though Venezuela’s future stability and willingness to engage the United States largely depends on Maduro’s political support and the country’s economic conditions. However, Cuba’s influence in the Venezuelan military and intelligence organizations could facilitate future communication between Washington and Caracas.

Still, domestic considerations will delay any potential reconciliation between Cuba and the United States. Under the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, lifting the embargo and ending sanctions requires U.S. congressional approval, which hinges on a variety of issues, including human rights improvements and the election of a new government in Havana. Obama cannot simply approve an agreement to normalize relations with Cuba.

In any case, an agreement would have to be agreed upon by both sides — no small feat, given the decades of animosity between the two. In the United States, improved public opinion toward ending the embargo would help future negotiations, but opposition lawmakers could impede the government’s efforts. For its part, Cuba has been liberalizing its economy slowly for nearly four years, and the concerns some Cuban leaders have over opening up an erstwhile closed country could delay the pace of any talks.

Of course, both countries have ways of moving the negotiations forward if they wish. These include possible prisoner exchanges. In fact, Obama has already reportedly asked Cuba (via Uruguay) to release Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen held in Cuba since 2009 for subversive activity. Discussions over the release of prisoners would be a strong sign that a larger negotiation is imminent.

 

Their Men in Caracas: The Cuban Expats Shoring Up Maduro’s Government Reply

From military advisers to aid workers, thousands of Cubans form an information network across Venezuela’s economy

By Paulo A Paranagua, Guardian Weekly

Cuba hopes ally Nicolás Maduro can avoid an election in the throes of an economic crisis. Photograph: Miguel Gutierrez/EPA

Cuba hopes ally Nicolás Maduro can avoid an election in the throes of an economic crisis. Photograph: Miguel Gutierrez/EPA

When asked how many Cubans are working in Venezuela, minister of foreign affairs Elías Jaua cites the 25,000 medical aid workers in the programme launched by the late president Hugo Chávez, adding “about 1,000 sports trainers and 600 farming technicians”. The opposition claims the number is higher, particularly as there are Cuban advisers in all the ministries and state-owned companies.

At the end of February the student leader Gaby Arellano tried to present a petition to the Cuban ambassador in Caracas. “We will not allow Cubans to interfere in our affairs any longer,” she said. “We don’t want them to go on controlling the media, directing military operations or indoctrinating our children.” Teodoro Petkoff, a leftwing opposition figure, is not convinced Havana exerts that much influence. “Such claims play down the responsibility of the Chavistas for what’s going on,” he says.

Defence specialist Rocío San Miguel believes Cuba really does influence policymakers in Venezuela. She recalls the way Chávez’s illness was managed, his hospitalisation in Havana clothed in secrecy, and the transfer of power to Nicolás Maduro (pictured), who was educated in Cuba. “Cuban officers attend strategic planning meetings for the armed forces,” she says, basing her claim on insider sources.

“It’s not a myth, it’s the reality,” says General Raúl Baduel, minister of defence under Chávez and now in custody at the Ramo Verde military prison. The Cubans have modernised the intelligence services, both the Sebin (Bolivarian National Intelligence Service) that reports directly to the president, and military intelligence. They also set up a special unit to protect the head of state.

Furthermore Cubans have computerised Venezuela’s public records, giving them control over the issue of identity papers and voter registration. They have representatives in the ports and airports, as well as supervising foreign nationals. They took part in purchases of military equipment and work on the Maracaibo airbase.

“All Cuban ‘internationalists’ have had military training and must, if required, fulfil combat duties,” San Miguel asserts. “Cubans form an information network which keeps Havana up-to-date on shifts in public opinion,” says political observer Carlos Romero.

Feature continues here:  Their Men in Caracas

Venezuelan Ex-Intelligence Chief Eliecer Otaiza Killed 1

Eliecer Otaiza backed Hugo Chavez's coup attempt on 4 February 1992

Eliecer Otaiza backed Hugo Chavez’s coup attempt on 4 February 1992

(BBC) A former chief of Venezuela’s intelligence service, Eliecer Otaiza, was killed last Saturday, officials have revealed.

Maj Otaiza, a friend and ally of the late president Hugo Chavez, was shot dead outside the capital, Caracas.

President Nicolas Maduro said police would investigate the “suspicious” circumstances of his death.

Maj Otaiza was elected in December as local councillor for the governing PSUV party for the Libertadores area.

Police said the motive for his killing was not yet clear.

The body was discovered on Saturday on the outskirts of the capital with four bullet wounds, said Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres.

The minister added that the major was found without any documents which is why it took police until Monday to identify the body, which had been taken to a local morgue.

He said the subsequent discovery of Maj Otaiza’s stolen and bullet-riddled car led them to suspect the body was that of the councillor.

Maj Otaiza had last been seen leaving a friend’s house on Friday night.

Ties that bind

He was a close friend of the late Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez, and backed his 1992 abortive coup aimed at deposing the then-President Carlos Andres Perez.

He was shot four times on 27 November 1992 during an attempt to storm the Miraflores presidential palace, but survived.

Mr Chavez dedicated a chapter in one of his autobiographical books to the major and his role in what the former president called his “Bolivarian Revolution”.

He said Maj Otaiza, then a lieutenant, tried to spring him from a prison in Yare, where Mr Chavez had been sent after the coup attempt.

“He came into the prison masquerading as a woman, and he looked really ugly, by the way,” Mr Chavez wrote.

Mr Chavez recalled how he sent the lieutenant away “to work on the outside for the revolution”.

Maj Otaiza later formed part of Mr Chavez’s personal guard and was named director of the national intelligence service in the early years of Mr Chavez’s presidency.

Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the region and few homicides are ever solved.

Anger about the lack of security and high crime rates, as well as frustration with Venezuela’s poor economic situation have led to mass protests against the government over the past months.

Venezuela’s Peace Talks Are a Scam — And the U.S. is Buying It 1

VE FlagBy José R. Cárdenas, in Foreign Policy

After more than two months of street protests in Venezuela, the Obama administration has placed its hopes on a spurious “dialogue” between the government and members of the organized opposition. As the Obama administration stands by, however, the chances that the crisis can lead to any positive change in Venezuela are fading.

The government and members of the opposition have just agreed to sit down for another round of negotiations, ostensibly to end the protests, which suits President Nicolás Maduro just fine. Though opposition representatives continue to plaintively seek some sort of meaningful redress for their grievances, the government has other ideas: While the talks drag on, security forces and armed militants, known as “colectivos,” wage a low-intensity war of attrition to wipe out the last of the protestors that have vexed the it since mid-February. After that, if all goes to plan, it’s back to the business of building “21st century socialism.”

So far, the negotiations have only produced nebulous agreements on a Truth Commission, improving citizen security, and returning to constitutional procedures in electing certain government officials.

That the government was intent on blocking any meaningful agreement was evident from the start. It refused to release opposition leaders who had been jailed sans due process following the outbreak of protests — including Leopoldo López of the Popular Will party — to join in the talks. The government has also dodged any responsibility for the marauding colectivos, who have been brutally attacking citizens protesting in the street. Instead, Maduro claimed the opposition was initiating the violence and his “supporters” had a right to defend themselves.

Maduro set this tone for the talks at the outset, proclaiming, “The bourgeoisie will never regain political power in the homeland.”

Certainly, the opposition is aware they are being taken for a ride. But it is not surprising that those opposition figures who are wary of confronting the regime have submitted to this political theater. The international community has been scolding them for the past decade to work within the system to effect positive political change, despite the “system” having been rigged against them in every conceivable way for 15 years, first under Hugo Chávez and now under his hand-picked successor Maduro.

What observers need to be aware of is that the opposition representatives arrayed around the negotiating table and those protesting in the streets are not one and the same. As I have written before, the protests began as spontaneous, organic eruptions of student discontent over street crime and economic hardship under chavismo. They were neither called for nor led by the organized opposition forces. As such, the latter does not have the power to turn them on or off depending on which crumbs the government decides to dole out.

All of this means that negotiations will not end Venezuela’s crisis — only real reforms will. Effective reforms would arrest the economic freefall wrought by the hare-brained statist policies of Maduro and his Cuban advisors, and re-establish credible institutions to channel discontent and foster real debate about the future of the country. The problem with that scenario is that to Maduro, all opposition is illegitimate and deserves no voice in the country’s affairs.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, has held to its position that the negotiations could actually bear fruit. In fact, it has pressed that line on Capitol Hill, stalling sanctions legislation in both the House and Senate that could “upset” the negotiating process.

The irony, of course, is that pressure from sanctions is the only way the Venezuelan government will enact meaningful change. It has paid no price for unleashing its paramilitary thugs against protestors, so why would it alter its approach? Either we care what happens in Venezuela, or we don’t. If we do, then at least let’s act like it.

Hope Fades For Venezuela Crisis Talks 1

 

KT McFarland

By Christopher Snyder, Fox News

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leaders are meeting this week for formal talks to end weeks of protests. Critics of Venezuela’s government believe no deal can be achieved because Maduro is not willing to give in to their demands. Fox News National Security Analyst KT McFarland spoke to Jose Cardenas about the prospects of an agreement. Cardenas is a former State Department senior adviser and currently serves as an associate with Vision Americas. “I’m very pessimistic that this dialogue will lead to anything credible and lasting,” Cardenas said. “These [talks] are mostly for international consumption.” Cardenas sees the current protests as “spontaneous,” not organized by the country’s opposition as the government alleges. “These are students who have no overt political agenda,” Cardenas said.

The protesters are demanding Maduro loosen his control over the economy and media. “The government somehow needs  to address the anger and frustration of the student movement that has basically sparked these protests,” Cardenas said.

Even though Venezuela is the Western Hemisphere’s largest oil producer, the country’s economy faces high inflation and stagnant growth. Cardenas indicated Venezuelans are having a tough time getting basic services and goods. “It is a result of centralization of the economy in the hands of the state,” Cardenas said. “The centralization of power in Venezuela along the lines of the Cuban model has basically wrecked the economy.” He says the energy sector has been “starved” because of government policies. “Those revenues that the government incurred from the oil sector have been simply plowed into unsustainable social programs.”

Watch the full interview above with Jose Cardenas. 

“I’m very pessimistic that this dialogue will lead to anything credible and lasting” — Jose Cardenas

Venezuela-Cuba Military Cooperation and the Narco-Terrorist Connection 3

Key Figures at the Head of the Oppressive Alliance

By Pedro Roig, The Canal [Blog of the PanAm Post]

The rebellion of the Venezuelan youth, demanding the end of Nicolás Maduro’s presidency, has brought into the forefront the nature of a regime that can be defined as a highly corrupt narco-terrorist state supported by Cuban military forces and Colombian drug cartels.

Venezuela, a country of 29 million people, is blessed with a good climate, rich land, the largest oil reserve in the world and access to major industrial markets. It has every expectation of prospering and becoming a modern, wealthy state. Yet the ruling oligarchy, led by the late-Hugo Chávez and now Nicolás Maduro, understood their revolutionary goal as a right to pillage the national wealth, turning the country into a decrepit caricature of Cuba’s Marxist failure and a secure route for Colombia’s narco-guerrilla to smuggle cocaine to the international markets.

The Cuban Connection

First and foremost, the Maduro government hold to power depends to a large extent on Cuba’s special forces of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) estimated at over 7,000. This is not counting medical and other support personnel (over 30,000) deployed throughout Venezuela.

In addition, Cubans helped train several thousand trusted Chavistas. Called collectivos, these motorcycle gangs can be seen in the videos and pictures helping the National Guard repress peaceful protests and shooting unarmed students (presently, more than 25 students have been murdered and over 300 hundred wounded).

Currently, General Raul Castro has several high ranking officers providing tactical and strategic advice to the Venezuelans, including General Leonardo Ramón Andollo, second chief of the general staff of the Ministry of the Armed Forces (MINFAR), Comandante Ramiro Valdés, former head of Cuba’s MININT, and General Carlos Fernández Gondin, second in command of the Ministry of Interior. The first two have spent extended periods of time in Venezuela organizing Cuba’s support for Venezuela’s repressive apparatus:

“Comandante Histórico” Ramiro Valdés was trained by the efficient and brutal East-German intelligence agency (STASI). Valdes was the first chief of Cuba’s repressive intelligence force (G-2). He is now Vice President of the Council of State and member of Cuba’s Communist Party Politburo. Valdes has remained in Venezuela for extended periods analyzing intelligence information on Venezuelan military, active and potential opposition officers and retaliatory tactics to be enforced.

Ramón Andollo is a highly trusted link between Colombia’s narco-guerilla FARC and Venezuela’s Armed Forces officers. For over 15 years, General Andollo has been the principal liaison between the Colombian and Venezuelan drug cartels. He has spent extended periods of time in Venezuela. It is reported by MININT defectors that General Andollo has met with Colombian guerrilla leaders in safe areas controlled by the Venezuelan Cartel de los Soles.

Second in Command of Cuba’s Ministry of Interior (MININT), General Fernández Gondin and his staff officers are in overall command of MININT’s Special Forces (over 7,000) deployed in Venezuela.

Feature continues here:  Venezuela-Cuba Military Cooperation and the Narco-Terrorist Connection