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Ex-intelligence chief says he told Maduro of Colombian guerrilla camps in Venezuela

Former FARC commander Luciano Marín, known by his alias Iván Márquez, says he and other former guerrilla leaders have broken with the Colombian peace process, returned to the jungle and taken up arms again in this image from a video released in August. Colombian officials said the video was recorded in Venezuela. (Reuters Tv/Via Reuters)

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The highly classified map shows a Colombian guerrilla camp on the southern bank of a hydroelectric plant in the picturesque foothills of the Venezuelan Andes. Allegedly led by a leftist fighter known as “Commander Lenin,” it’s one of several heavily armed outposts of combatants said to be fighting against the Colombian government while engaging in extortion, kidnapping, assassinations and drug trafficking from bases in Venezuela.

And according to Venezuela’s former intelligence chief, President Nicolás Maduro knows all about it. 

Those details and others — including the rough locations and activities of Colombian drug cartels and criminal gangs operating on Venezuelan soil — are part of a Venezuelan intelligence report that Gen. Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera says he hand-delivered to Maduro at his Caracas residence last November.

“I gave him a folder with this and told him, ‘Look, this is the situation with the guerrillas,’ ” said the former intelligence chief, who turned against Maduro this year and is now in the United States.

“They never took action,” he said. “You could say that Maduro is a friend of the guerrillas.”

Maduro, the head of Venezuela’s socialist government, has long voiced ideological sympathy for Colombia’s leftist guerrillas. But he has denied claims by Colombian officials and others that his government has cooperated with them. Maduro’s Communications Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

The classified report — a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post — offers new allegations about the scope of Maduro’s personal knowledge of the guerrillas’ presence and activities at a time when tensions in the region are rapidly escalating. 

Gen. Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, the ex-spy chief of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, sat down for an exclusive interview with The Washington Post. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Josh Ritchie/The Washington Post)

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Colombian officials are planning to make a highly charged presentation against Maduro’s government Wednesday at the U.N. General Assembly, alleging that it is evolving from a domestic threat to an international threat by harboring guerrillas they describe as “terrorists.” 

Their evidence is to include photographs of Colombian guerrillas they say were taken on Venezuelan territory, and summaries of internal Venezuelan documents, some of them revealed by Colombia’s Semana magazine this month, that indicate Maduro’s government is actively providing them with military and logistical support.

Late last month, some former leaders of the FARC, the Colombian guerrilla group that waged a decades-long war against the ­Colombian government, announced they were withdrawing from a 2016 peace agreement, returning to the jungle and taking up arms again. Colombian officials claimed that their video announcement was recorded in Venezuela.

Before the announcement, Maduro appeared to publicly embrace the breakaway group’s commanders, saying in July that they were “leaders of peace” who were “welcome in Venezuela.”

The Maduro government has countercharged that opposition leader Juan Guaidó is working with right-wing Colombian criminal gangs. Maduro’s interior minister, Néstor Reverol, appeared on state television this month to show photos of Guaidó in the company of two suspected members of the Colombian ­narco-paramilitary organization Los Rastrojos, also mentioned as operating in Venezuela in the intelligence report obtained by The Post.

Guaidó has not denied the authenticity of the photos. He has said that they were taken during his brief trip to Colombia in February and that he did not know who the men were. 

“We don’t ask for criminal records to take a picture,” he told reporters in Caracas.

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According to the report obtained by The Post, at least 600 members of the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and the ELN, or National Liberation Army, had gathered in secret bases in the Venezuelan state of Amazonas.

The report indicates a far larger presence involved in illegal mining and other illicit operations in a broad swath of Venezuela stretching from the Caribbean coast to the southern border with Brazil. It includes photos with names and aliases of alleged guerrillas as well as Colombian narco-traffickers and criminal gang members operating in Venezuela. 

“I’m not surprised,” said Francisco Santos, Colombia’s ambassador to the United States. “If anything, [the report] underestimates the current extent of the ELN. They have grown in the past year, and have felt more comfortable, because the government of Venezuela has created the conditions where they both are working to help each other in the border region.” 

The mounting allegations against Maduro’s government come as the United States leads an international effort to oust the Venezuelan leader with some of the harshest economic sanctions ever imposed by Washington. Nearly a dozen Western Hemisphere nations agreed this month to invoke the Rio Treaty, the 1947 pact that allows such joint actions as economic sanctions, naval blockades and military force.

Talks organized by the Norwegian government to secure a deal between Maduro’s government and the Guaidó-led opposition have broken down. Maduro’s officials now are negotiating with smaller opposition groups. In ­response, Guaidó’s officials have been pressuring European governments in particular to take a harder line against Maduro, to isolate a leader who claimed victory last year in a vote widely seen as fraudulent.

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Allegations of Venezuelan support for Colombian guerrillas date back two decades to Hugo Chávez, the founder of Venezuela’s socialist state. But opposition leaders say support for such groups, and their operations on Venezuelan territory, has ramped up under Maduro.

“It’s now very clear that the Colombian guerrillas are involved in illegal activities in Venezuela, and that [the Maduro government] is complicit in this,” opposition leader Leopoldo López said by telephone from the Spanish Embassy in Caracas, where he has sought sanctuary since an April 30 uprising attempt failed. “This contributes to opening the eyes of the international community that action needs to be taken.” 

Figuera said he commissioned the report obtained by The Post late last year after a deadly ELN attack on a Venezuelan military outpost. That attack came after Venezuelan military commanders had taken the rare action of arresting four Colombian guerrillas on Venezuelan territory. They included an ELN commander: Felipe Ortega Bernal, also known as “La Garganta” — the Throat.

After Figuera handed Maduro the document, Figuera said, Maduro directed him to pass the material on to other senior officials, including Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López.

Padrino López, Figuera said, appeared to share his concern that Colombian guerrillas were operating with impunity on Venezuelan territory.

“But he told me he wasn’t authorized to take action,” Figuera said. 

A month later, Figuera said, a senior Colombian guerrilla leader asked him for a one-on-one meeting. He said he approached Maduro again. 

“Maduro just told me, ‘I will handle it,’ ” Figuera said. “That was it. End of matter.”

Both the Venezuelan government and the ELN have denied coordinated logistical or tactical support. In May, the ELN, now Colombia’s largest active guerrilla group, denied it maintained troops in Venezuela and denied any allegiance to Maduro. 

“These accusations are false,” Israel Ramírez, a senior ELN commander known by the nom de guerre Pablo Beltrán, said in a recorded message distributed to the media. “There are records of the dozens of members of the ELN who have been arrested on the Venezuelan border and immediately deported to Colombia.”

Jorge Rodríguez, Maduro’s minister of communication, has denied the Semana magazine report. He said the documents on which it was based were forged and part of a right-wing conspiracy aimed at taking down Maduro. 

“They kill the truth in order to prepare the ground for an armed aggression against Venezuela,” Rodríguez said.

Carol Morello and Mariana Zuñiga contributed to this report.

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