Maduro's former espionage chief Figuera ends up with allegations against the Venezuelan government in the United States
[Leer in español]
BOGOTA, Colombia – In a Palace Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is said to have been full of conspirators, coats and thieves and could rely on the loyalty of at least one man: General Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera.
The muscular 55-year-old was a true believer in the revolution after spending a decade as head of security for the late Hugo Chávez, the father of the socialist state of Venezuela and Maduro's mentor. He studied the art of intelligence with the masters of Communist Cuba. With his appointment as head of the Maduro secret police – the dreaded SEBIN – he reached the height of his power in October.
When US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó announced his uprising to overthrow Maduro on April 30, Figuera appeared as a surprise conspirator – and when the rebellion failed, a man suddenly sprinted for his life into US hands. American activists in neighboring Colombia detail, Figuera arrived in the United States on Monday with allegations of the government of Maduro armed: The illicit gold transactions. Hezbollah cells work in Venezuela. The extent of Cuban influence in Maduro's Miraflores Palace.
The insurrection failed and Maduro remains in power. But Figuera does not regret having turned against his boss.
"I'm proud of what I've done," he said last week from a hotel room in central Bogota. "For the time being the regime has preceded us. But that can change quickly.
This is the story of how the opposition turned a man who was once considered irreversible into a man – and what information he now passes on to US officials. It's based on weeks of interviews with more than a dozen agents, opposition leaders, and US officials, including 12 hours of exclusive interviews with Figuera, his first in a major news organization, and by far his most comprehensive. The Americans have celebrated a certain amount of victory with the departure of Figuera. Englisch: emagazine.credit-suisse.com/app/art … = 263 & lang = en. They claim they have been effective, and their efforts have remained viably accused of arbitrary detention and torture, even after the collapse of the insurgency. He was one of five high-ranking Venezuelan officials who were sanctioned by the Trump administration in February. His publicity shows that Maduro's opponents were ready to make moral compromises to eliminate him.
Figuera defends his work by advancing Chavismo. But he says he regrets some of his excesses.
"I have a great debt to the people who are still in prison," he said fighting tears. "The people who had family members died and could not even see them, which kills me."
He continued, "There are many people there who are innocent, and I owe them, I do not have enough
"I thought I could make Maduro realize a meaning I could not."
[Guaidó says opposition overestimated military support for uprising]
Cat and Mouse
On the lukewarm Caracas evening of March 28, the conspirators against Maduro staged one of their riskiest moves. Cesar Omaña, a 39-year-old Venezuelan doctor, businessman and adventurer, nervously entered the SEBIN's towering headquarters to recruit her boss.
Omaña lived in Miami between two worlds. He was a close friend of one of Chavez's daughters and high-ranking Maduro officials and members of the anti-government opposition. Unlike other Venezuelan businessmen involved in the conspiracy, he was not charged and had no US sanctions against him. He was, however, disturbed by the collapse of his country under Maduro.
Omaña was in frequent contact with US officials in November according to Omaña and the officials. He also made regular and even friendly contacts with opposition leader Leopoldo López, the then most famous political prisoner in Venezuela, and Guaidó's mentor López welcomes followers of the April 30 riot. (Cristian Hernandez / AFP / Getty Images)
Granny Omaña was nervous about getting to know Figuera.
"He was the third most powerful man in the country," he said, sitting in black next to Figuera in Bogota's Top Gun Ball Cap and Yohji Yamamoto sneakers last week. "He could just have arrested me."
Figuera was on the radar screen of the Americans. The sanctions have frozen assets in the US – he said he has none – and prohibited the Americans from doing business with him. US officials said publicly that Maduro loyalists who turn against him could lift their sanctions.
Omaña and Figuera started a kind of cat-and-mouse game in which they tried to get the other one out.  "I said to him, Tell me something I do not know," said Figuera.
Omaña entered the opposition plan and then worked his way out.
"We talked about South Africa and Mandela. Said Granny. "And we finally talked about a first plan, a law of reconciliation. Maduro persuaded to go. "
" I told him I was ready to see Maduro go, "Figuera said.
"And I said," Yes, you are watching the game, but you are not playing in it, "said Omaña," and that species has broken the ice … "
" That was the beginning of the conspiracy. " [ In the secret conspiracy to put high-ranking Venezuelan officials against Maduro already in action.
In February, a group of Venezuelan businessmen, including media mogul Raúl Gorrín, who was sanctioned by Washington and charged with money laundering in the United States The centerpiece was, according to some familiar people, the turning around of key Maduro loyalists, including Supreme Court Justice of the Venezuelan Maikel Moreno.
The men had interlocutors between The Trump administration and members of the regime, the people, served They knew the plan and were anxious to establish their own relations with the United States where they were accustomed to sending their children and their women shopping during the weekend.
According to a high-ranking government official, these business people said that if they succeed, travel bans and asset freezes could be reversed. The government would not intervene with the Justice Department to overturn charges – but could put in a good word for those who helped Year with President Nicolás Maduro. (Federico Parra / AFP / Getty Images)
"All we can do is address the DOJ," said the official, who, like others, spoke about sensitive political issues on condition of anonymity.
Gorrín did not respond to a request for comment.
The businessmen tried to persuade the Chief Justice to turn against Maduro. Their plan was for several familiar people: Moreno would pass judgment that would restore the authority of the opposition-controlled National Assembly. The assembly had already recognized Guaidó as interim president. Maduro would be forced aside.
Washington officials were kept abreast of the ongoing plot, as some people familiar with the situation said, and regularly offered advice on progress. But the conspiracy itself, according to Venezuelan participants and US officials, was domiciled in Venezuela.
Moreno was allowed to serve in a transitional government as the highest judge. However, those involved in the talks said Moreno also demanded $ 10 million to get the votes in court and create a safety net for himself. Figuera said he intercepted talks on WhatsApp, indicating that Moreno's total cash pool had exceeded $ 100 million.
One of the businessmen involved in the alleged offer stated that US officials had been informed. He said the Americans did not support the idea, but they had no objection.
Two senior US officials denied the offer before April 30. It was only after the uprising collapsed that Washington learned of Moreno's demand for cash.
How a conspiracy full of intrigue and betrayal could not displace Venezuela's president.
Hezbollah, ELN and money.
After meeting Omaña, figuera said, he felt a spark of hope. He had worked for years in military intelligence. But his new job as head of the SEBIN opened his eyes to the extent of rot in Maduro's government.
"I have never seen the situation of the country and the corruption of the government as well as in my last six years months," he said. "I quickly realized that Maduro is the boss of a criminal enterprise in which his own family is also involved."
Figuera had begun to investigate allegations about a company run by an assistant to Maduro's 29-year-old son, Nicolás Maduro Guerra, was founded. He said the company has established a monopoly on the purchase of gold from small miners in the south of the country at discounted prices and for sale at increased prices to Venezuela's central bank.
He prepared to go to Maduro with the information, he said, but was forewarned by a Maduro helper.
Members of the Venezuelan secret service SEBIN guard the house of former police commissioner Iván Simonovis in Caracas. (AFP / Getty Images)
Figuera announced that he had revealed what he described as money laundering, in which the then Vice President Tareck El Aissami, now Industry Minister of Maduro, was involved and in the US for drug trafficking under penalty was charged and indicted.
El Aissami has publicly denied any wrongdoing. Neither he nor the other officials appointed by Figuera for this article replied to the request for comments to the Venezuelan Ministry of Communications. The Washington Post could not independently confirm Figuera's claims.
Figuera said he saw intelligence agencies pointing out that illegal groups in Venezuela operated under the protection of the government. Among them were members of the Colombian guerrilla group ELN, which operates near mining areas in the southern state of Bolivar and promises to create a first line of defense in the event of foreigners entering Venezuela. Caracas, apparently targeted for illegal business operations, is in the Middle East To finance the East.
"I found that the cases of drug trafficking and guerrillas should not be affected," Figuera said.
As Venezuela's misery grows, US focus shifts to Cuba's role.]
Raúl Castro on the phone
But the inner workings of a dysfunctional government divided among the personal fiefs of belligerent officials left him the most despair.
Meeting with Iris Varela, the fiery Minister of Maduro of Maduro, and Vladimir Padrino López, the Minister of Defense of Maduro. He said Varela demanded 30,000 rifles to start their own private army.
"She said she trained male prisoners," Figuera said. "That she was her commander."
Meanwhile, Maduro relied on 15 to 20 Cubans to ensure personal safety. Some were military guards, Figuera said. Three Cubans called "psychologists" served as special advisers, analyzing Maduro's speeches to assess their public impact.
Figuera saw Maduro several times a week at Cabinet meetings. When he sought a one-to-one interview this year, he was told to turn to the Cuban "Aldo".
"I thought, what?" I'm his secret service chief, and I have to go through a cuban to meet him? "
Power outages paralyzed Venezuela nationwide in March. Figuera and other high-ranking officials were at a meeting with Maduro when Raúl Castro called, Figuera said. Maduro took the phone to a corner of the room to speak to the former Cuban president.
Maduro, left, met in Havana last December with Raúl Castro, Cuba's former president. (Yamil Lage / AFP / Getty Images)
When the call ended, Figuera said, Maduro seemed relieved. Castro had promised to send a team of Cuban technicians to solve the problem.
"Raúl Castro was like a consultant to Maduro," said Figuera. "If he were in a meeting, it would be interrupted if Castro was on the phone."
In April, Figuera Maduro sent a message in a locked suitcase. Only he and Maduro had the code. He described the situation of the country as unfortunate and proposed new elections.
Maduro wrote him an SMS the next day.
"He called me a coward, a defeatist," Figuera said. "At that time I knew I had to act."
[ When sanctions are imposed in Cuba, the US – once a driver of hope – is now a source of pain.]
"Maduro was very nervous . " In the days following Omaña's visit, Figuera said, he began meeting with Omaña's supreme ally in opposition. Leopoldo López had been transferred since 2014 between house arrest and prison cell. Access was no problem – Figuera, as head of the SEBIN, was his jailer.
During these meetings Figuera learned of the planned uprising for 1 May. Moreno will pass the verdict resuming the National Assembly. Padrino, the defense minister, would support the verdict and force Maduro out of office.
According to Figuera, the plotters were all codenamed. Figuera, an Afro-Venezuelan, was the Black Panther. Grandma was Superman. Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the United States National Security Council for Latin American politics, was Comeniños – the children's eater.
But as May 1 approached, he became uneasy, according to Figuera. During a meeting on April 23 at Moreno's Caracas mansion, he found the Chief Justice hesitant. Moreno proposed not to become Guaidó, but to become president.
On April 27, Figuera met with Moreno and Padrino at Padrino.
"It was a short conversation," said Figuera. "They looked at each other nervously."
Figuera called Padrino the next day to make sure the chief of defense was still aboard. But Padrino watched "Avengers: Endgame," said Figuera, and "did not want to talk."
Neither Moreno nor Padrino responded to requests for comments.
Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López gives a speech in Caracas in February. Behind him are portraits of Simón Bolívar and Hugo Chávez. (Yuri Cortez / AFP / Getty Images)
Opposition officials said they postponed the date of the operation by one day because they heard that Guaidó might be arrested. Figuera said he was the one who accelerated the schedule.
On April 29, Figuera learned that Maduro's feared Colectivos was preparing a large-scale attack on a May Day protest that could lead to a "bloodbath."
] He told Padrino the new timetable himself.
"Are you crazy?" Padrino replied in Figuera's statement. "What about the verdict? How you do that?
"It happens," Figuera replied. "If not, May 1 will be bloody … We need to move forward."
Figuera and other conspirators said they had received confirmation that Moreno However, after hearing Padrino's skepticism, Figuera called other military officials.
Plan, he insisted, had to go forward, but in the early morning hours of April 30, it began to fall apart
Guaidó signed a pardon to free López from house arrest.Guaidó and López triumphed at dawn on the La Carlota military base in Caracas, urging the military and the population to rise.
Figuera drove through Caracas to see who joined the effort.
His phone rang, it was his boss.
"Maduro was very nervous," Figuera said. "He kept asking me, 'What's going on?' 19659091] Maduro kept calling. Finally, around 6:30, Maduro asked Figuera to report to the infamous Helicoide Prison.
"I called my wife and said to her, 'I have to turn myself over. & # 39;
[ Venezuela's opposition, government continues negotiations to resolve the crisis; US skeptics]
Still a chavista in the heart
Barbara Reinefeld, Figuera's wife, was in Miami with her family when her smartphone rang. Her husband went through the failed conspiracy and Maduro's final order.
She insisted that he did not surrender, that he made a run to the border.
Two months earlier, during a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, Reinefeld was contacted by two people who identified themselves as FBI agents. They interviewed her, she said, and set up a system to communicate with her face down.
Figuera said he had blessed this return channel, but he has no communication with the Americans themselves.
Gen. Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, photographed in an unknown location after arriving in the US on Monday. (Josh Ritchie / For the Washington Post)
Shortly after her husband's call on April 30, Reinefeld was contacted by Venezuelans in Miami, one of them a relative of Guaidó. A senior Trump administration official was aware of her plight and offered to meet her in Washington.
She flew to Washington on May 1 and was reassured that her husband would be safe if he came to Colombia. Figuera, who was listening to local military contacts, fled the country and arrived on May 2 in the border town of Cucuta, where he was greeted by Colombian intelligence services .
The next day he met with the US officials in Bogota.
Moreno, Padrino and other Maduro loyalists have publicly stated that they were not involved in the conspiracy. Two days after the failure of the insurrection Padrino appeared with Maduro and suggested that he had rejected the opposition's overtures.
"Do not come and buy us with a wrong offer. , , as if we had no dignity, "he said.
Within a week of Figuera's arrival in Colombia, the Trump administration lifted sanctions against him.
Figuera said he had had a difficult time at his first debriefing with US officials. He has recognized Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, but remains basically a chavista. He and others believed that his life was threatened by Colombian guerillas who had joined the Venezuelan government. Grandma arrived in Bogota last week to negotiate Figuera's safe passage to the United States.
Figuera is a product of the socialist government that he served for years. He says he regrets some, but not all, of his actions in his name.
"If I told you that I'm Mother Teresa, you would not take me seriously," he said.
Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.
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