CubaBrief: Troops and intelligence officers from Cuba are torturing people in Venezuela. Hear today what Venezuelans are doing to unseat Maduro and his Castroite backers to restore democracy.

​Cuban dictator Raul Castro and Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro

Cuban soldiers and intelligence agents are active in carrying out torture in Venezuela. Listen first hand today what Venezuelans are doing to reclaim democracy in Venezuela from Maduro, and his Castroite enablers. A bipartisan roundtable discussion titled “The Fight for Freedom in Venezuela: A Conversation with María Corina Machado” is scheduled by the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere for the House of Representatives on Wednesday, February 7 at 11:00 am EST in the Rayburn Building.The Biden Administration loosened sanctions on Venezuela under the condition that free and fair elections would be held.  Shortly after Maria Corina Machado won the opposition primary, she was banned from participating in any elections due to supposed “anti-national” activities.

Maria Corina Machado, Creator: CSIS | Center for Strategic & International Studies 

On January 20, 2020 Nicolas Maduro at the XX Meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission of the Cuba-Venezuela Integral Cooperation Agreement reaffirmed the “special relationship” of his government with Havana stating, “I’ve told our older brother and protector, Raúl Castro Ruz, and he agrees. And it has been discussed in this mixed commission and we agree. The ambassadors are practically part of the Council of Ministers, the ambassador of Cuba has open doors in each ministry to coordinate, to move forward.”

Maduro’s statement was just echoing what Hugo Chávez had already stated on more than one occasion. A brief review of Cuba-Venezuela relations during the Chavez and Maduro regimes provides some context.

Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez Source: ACTUALIDAD RT

In 1992 Hugo Chavez was involved in a failed coup against the government of Andres Perez. Pardoned by Perez’s successor, Rafael Caldera, in March 1994 Hugo Chavez made his way to Cuba later that same year where he was received by Fidel Castro as a hero not a failed coup plotter. President Caldera, who pardoned Chavez, handed power over to him in 1999. Together with Fidel Castro, as a mentor, Chavez began the process of turning a flawed democratic order into the regime it is today.

In 2000 President Hugo Chávez upon receiving Cuban collaborators announced that “Cuba is the sea of happiness. Venezuela is going there.”

In 2007 Chávez had declared that Cuba and Venezuela were a single nation. “Deep down,” he said, “we are one single government.” 

In February 2010  Ramiro Valdés Menéndez, then age 77, was hired “as a consultant for that country’s energy crisis” but his expertise is not in energy.  Valdes was the Vice President of the Council of State and Minister of Communications in the Cuban government. His role in Communications was figuring out in 2007 a way to muzzle the internet, what he called a “wild colt of new technologies.”

Commander Ramiro Valdes, founder of the Castro regime’s feared Ministry of the Interior, head of the organization between 1961 and 1968 and was viewed by some as “the No. 3 man in the Cuban hierarchy.” He is the architect of Cuban totalitarianism’s repressive apparatus and assisted Chavez and Maduro in building the Venezuelan version.  

On Friday, January 17, 2020 the Casla Institute, an organization that promotes democracy and the rule of law, in their annual report documented that Cuban officials run  Nicolás Maduro’s “repressive apparatus” in Venezuela. This has meant the methods of torture used by the Maduro regime have incorporated “innovations” provided by Castro agents to increase Venezuelan victim’s suffering,

Nicolas Maduro with Dagoberto Rodríguez, Raul Castro’s man in Caracas.

Attorney, human rights defender, and executive director of the Casla Institute,Tamara Suju, over Twitter revealed that Maduro was still dissembling on the extent of the Cuban Ambassador’s existing role in Venezuela:

“The ambassador of the Cuban dictatorship is already an integral part of the Operational Strategic Command of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (CEOFAN) and makes decisions. No one from the island enters or leaves without him knowing. All missions and Cuban militia report to him. Dagoberto Rodríguez is the ‘Boss’,

Below is the video of Nicolas Maduro (in Spanish) from Monday, January 20, 2020.

In September 2022 the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela (FFMV) found Venezuela’s top leaders committed crimes against humanity with Havana’s help.

The General Directorate of Military Counter-Intelligence (DGCIM) is an organ of the Bolivarian National Armed Force (FANB). Former DGIM officials informed the authors of the independent report published on September 20, 2022 by UN experts on Venezuela about the deep involvement of the Cuban intelligence services.

” Former DGCIM officials told the Mission that Cuban State agents have instructed, advised and participated in intelligence and counter-intelligence activities with DGCIM. The Mission further reviewed written confidential agreements between the Governments of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and Cuba, in which the latter was given a formal role in restructuring Venezuelan military counter-intelligence services and to train officers. These agreements date back to 2006 and the cooperation is still ongoing.

This report confirms earlier reporting on Havana’s relationship with Venezuela’s military and security services by Reuters and the OAS Secretary General.

Angus Berwick in the August 22, 2019 Reuters article, “Special Report: How Cuba taught Venezuela to quash military dissentreported that the governments of Cuba and Venezuela signed two agreements, documents reviewed by the news agency, in May 2008, that gave Cuba’s armed forces and intelligence services wide latitude in the South American country to:

  • Train soldiers in Venezuela

  • Review and restructure parts of the Venezuelan military

  • Train Venezuelan intelligence agents in Havana

  • And change the intelligence service’s mission from spying on foreign rivals to surveilling the country’s own soldiers, officers, and even senior commanders.

Havana Times reported on December 8, 2018 that the Organization of American States Secretary General, Luis Almagro, “assured that there has been a ‘Cuban presence’ in tortures committed in Venezuela. ‘It is estimated that the Cuban presence in Venezuela is 46,000 people, an occupation force that teaches to torture, to repress, to do intelligence tasks, civil documentation, migration.'”

Ravi Dev is a former member of parliament, and founder of the political party, Rise Organise and Rebuild Guyana (ROAR) in his February 4, 2024 letter to the editor published in Stabroek News titled “More proof of Maduro’s bad faith, we must be careful” is calling for a U.S. military presence in Guyana to act as a deterrent to Venezuelan aggression. The end of his letter concludes on a strong note. “While some have claimed this would be “provocative”, what do they say about the US$30 billion worth of advanced weapons Venezuela acquired from Russia and their tutelage by Cuban military personnel? We welcome the GDF acquiring drones and aircraft to augment our air domain awareness and the visit of the U.S. Air Force Major General.”

Stabroek News, February 4, 2024

Letters to the Editor

More proof of Maduro’s bad faith, we must be careful

By Stabroek News

February 4, 2024

Dear Editor,

In the wake of the Argyll Declaration, we emphasised that Venezuela’s Maduro government cannot be trusted since it consistently ignores international law and norms and behaves as a rogue state towards us. Usually, governments reflect rationally on future outcomes when they make decisions in the present, taking cognisance of international institutions that uphold what one expert called the ‘Three Rs’ thesis on states acting in the international order – reputation, reciprocity and retaliation. But from our experience, we can see that based on Maduro’s cavalier effective dismissal of the Geneva Agreement with its procedural operations leading to their border controversy being settled judicially, he cynically regards multilateral institutions as toothless poodles. 

 If we needed further proof of Maduro’s mala fides, we can look at the fate of the “Barbados Agreement” which his government signed last October with Venezuela’s Opposition parties’ Unitary Platform. They agreed to “recognize and respect the right of each political actor to select its candidate for the presidential elections in a free manner.” María Corina Machado had garnered over 90% of the opposition votes in primary elections held in the same month. The US government, committed to ensuring democratic governance in the western hemisphere via free and fair elections, lifted the sanctions they had imposed on Venezuela after Maduro had massively rigged the 2018 presidential elections. US oil giant Chevron was granted a six-month licence to resume operations in association with the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA.

 But within days of Machado winning the opposition primary, Maduro used a frequently deployed ploy against opposition candidates by banning her from participating in any elections because of “anti-national” activities. She had supported the US post-2018 measures that sanctioned his rigging. Machado appealed to the Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice but last week, it upheld the ban without allowing her the right to defend herself. This, of course, violates her rights to due process and defence by international human rights standards. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHCR) emphasised that candidates could only be disqualified by conviction by a judge, within the framework of a criminal process. Consistent with its position on democracy in the region, the US immediately announced the reinstatement of sanctions on Venezuelan gold exports and that the same would apply to oil and gas sector once the licences expire on April 18. 

But Maduro’s reaction to the US’ statement confirms his outlaw outlook that should serve as a cautionary tale to our policy makers as we react to his manoeuvres to annex our Essequibo. Last Wednesday, he bombastically declared that “a new world has already been born” which no longer accepts “imperial tutelage” from the United States, and asserted that many allied nations “want to come and invest in Venezuela…We do not depend on the Yankees to invest, prosper and grow.” Significantly, he made these statements at the 2024 opening judicial ceremony of the Supreme Court in Caracas. Maduro also resorted to populism as he had done with his December referendum to “authorize” his annexation of Essequibo when he announced his government would “go to the people” to set a date for elections. This contravenes the Barbados Agreement which states elections would be held in the second half of this year.

In light of Maduro’s recalcitrance in observing international law and agreements, we must intensify our efforts to tighten our security. There is the folk wisdom in the observation: “When blind man seh he will pelt you; he already has brick in his hand.” To warn Maduro not to cross Brazilian territory in any invasion of southern Essequibo, President Lula – no enemy of Maduro but obviously a realist – moved troops once again into Roraima State next to our border. In the meantime, following the visits of US SouthCom Commander Laura Richardson last July and August, the US Army 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) arrived in September to conduct joint exercises with the GDF and to improve our cyber capabilities. At that time we proposed that to counter the hybrid war being waged by Venezuela in the grey zone, we establish a military base in Essequibo to which the US forces would have access.

While some have claimed this would be “provocative”, what do they say about the US$30 billion worth of advanced weapons Venezuela acquired from Russia and their tutelage by Cuban military personnel? We welcome the GDF acquiring drones and aircraft to augment our air domain awareness and the visit of the U.S. Air Force Major General.

Sincerely,

Ravi Dev

https://www.stabroeknews.com/2024/02/04/opinion/letters/more-proof-of-maduros-bad-faith-we-must-be-careful/

Diálogo Américas, February 26, 2020

Cuba’s Torture Methods in Venezuela Take a Brutal Toll

By ShareAmerica / Editado pela equipe da Diálogo

February 26, 2020

Cuba’s influence has caused a sharp increase in brutal torture methods used on prisoners in Venezuela, according to a recent report by the CASLA Institute, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that promotes human rights and democracy in Latin America.

In 2019, Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, decried Cuba’s training of Venezuelan police in torture tactics. Cuba deployed tens of thousands of personnel to Venezuela to give lessons in torture to special police forces and intelligence agencies.

Asphyxiation, electric shock, waterboarding, sexual violence, and intoxication with unknown psychotropic substances are some of the torture methods that have intensified in 2018-2019, the CASLA Institute report indicates. According to the NGO, new techniques were also introduced, such as the piercing of the prisoner’s fingernails and toenails to run wires, or inserting electrically charged needles in the genitals to increase pain during shocks.

Cubans intelligence agents and officers belonging to the Cuban Liaison and Cooperation Group (GRUCE, in Spanish) — a Cuban military unit permanently based in Venezuela — not only train Venezuelan security forces, but also participate in the torture of prisoners, the NGO says. The report goes on to denounce the Cuban ambassador to Venezuela as the top facilitator of torture training, asserting that “nothing happens without his knowledge.”

Known among Venezuelan security forces as the “Islanders,” Cuban agents operate from Fort Tiuna in Caracas, but also have access to clandestine torture centers located within intelligence agencies and homes seized from criminals across the country, the NGO says.

Cuban agents, the report continues, also train officers of the Bolivarian Armed Forces in repression, intimidation, and follow-up techniques to spy on their own colleagues and families, political and social leaders, and to monitor the social unrest.

“With the guidance and encouragement of Russia and Cuba, the [Nicolás] Maduro regime arrests, tortures, and even kills our citizens,” said Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaidó in an editorial published in the Miami Herald. “We demand that the regimes of Russia and Cuba stop torture and abuse, and leave our country forever.”

The use of torture has been essential for the Maduro regime to punish opponents, and extract confessions from victims, including accusations, the report concludes. The increase in torture, the NGO adds, allows the regime to cultivate fear and to continue social control.

https://dialogo-americas.com/articles/cubas-torture-methods-in-venezuela-take-a-brutal-toll/

Reuters, August 22, 2019

Special Report: How Cuba taught Venezuela to quash military dissent

By Angus Berwick            

CARACAS (Reuters) – In December 2007, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez suffered his first defeat at the polls Although still wildly popular among the working class that had propelled him to power nearly a decade earlier, voters rejected a referendum that would have enabled him to run for re-election repeatedly. 

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro gestures during a meeting with soldiers at a military base in Caracas, Venezuela January 30, 2019. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

Stung, Chavez turned to a close confidant, according to three former advisors: Fidel Castro. The aging Cuban leader had mentored Chavez years before the Venezuelan became president, when he was still best known for leading a failed coup.

Now, deepening economic ties were making Cuba ever more reliant on oil-rich Venezuela, and Castro was eager to help Chavez stay in power, these advisors say. Castro’s advice: Ensure absolute control of the military.

Easier said than done.

Venezuela’s military had a history of uprisings, sometimes leading to coups of the sort that Chavez, when a lieutenant colonel in the army, had staged in 1992. A decade later, rivals waged a short-lived putsch against Chavez himself.

But if Chavez took the right steps, the Cuban instructed, he could hang on as long as Castro himself had, the advisors recalled. Cuba’s military, with Castro’s brother at the helm, controlled everything from security to key sectors of the economy.

Within months, the countries drew up two agreements, recently reviewed by Reuters, that gave Cuba deep access to Venezuela’s military – and wide latitude to spy on it and revamp it.

The agreements, specifics of which are reported here for the first time, led to the imposing of strict surveillance of Venezuelan troops through a Venezuelan intelligence service now known as the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence, or DGCIM.

Under Cuban military advisors, Venezuela refashioned the intelligence unit into a service that spies on its own armed forces, instilling fear and paranoia and quashing dissent.

Now known for its repressive tactics, the DGCIM is accused by soldiers, opposition lawmakers, human rights groups and many foreign governments of abuses including torture and the recent death of a detained Navy captain.

According to the documents reviewed by Reuters, the agreements, signed in May 2008, allowed Cuba’s armed forces to:

• Train soldiers in Venezuela

• Review and restructure parts of the Venezuelan military

• Train Venezuelan intelligence agents in Havana

• And change the intelligence service’s mission from spying on foreign rivals to surveilling the country’s own soldiers, officers, and even senior commanders.

The first agreement, according to the documents, would prepare Venezuelan intelligence agents to “discover and confront the subversive work of the enemy.” The second agreement authorized Cuban officials to oversee the “assimilation” and “modernization” of Venezuela’s military.

The presence of Cuban officials within Venezuela’s military has been known for years. President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s disciple and increasingly beleaguered successor, said in a 2017 speech: “We are grateful to Cuba’s revolutionary armed forces. We salute them and will always welcome them.”

But neither country has ever acknowledged details of the agreements or the extent of Cuba’s involvement.

In March, after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence denounced Havana’s “malign influence” on Caracas, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez downplayed the relationship. “I strongly reject repeated and false accusations,” he tweeted, “of Cuban military ‘training,’ ‘controlling’ or ‘intimidating’ in Venezuela.”

Neither Venezuela’s Defense Ministry nor its Information Ministry, responsible for government communications including those of Maduro, responded to emails and phone calls for this article. Cuban officials didn’t respond to requests from Reuters for comment.

Eleven years after they were forged, the military agreements have proven crucial for Maduro’s survival as president, according to security experts, people familiar with the administration and opposition politicians.

With Cuba’s help and training, the military has stood by Maduro and helped him weather an economic meltdown, widespread hunger and crime, and the emigration of more than 4 million people – more than 10 percent of Venezuela’s population in recent years.

In June, Reuters explained how a reshuffling of the armed forces, and proliferation of senior officers, has kept military leadership beholden to Maduro.

Now, the documents laying out Venezuela’s agreements with Cuba – and interviews with dozens of current and former members of the armed services, government officials and people familiar with the relationship between Caracas and Havana – show how instrumental Castro’s help has been as well.

The transformation of the DGCIM, these people say, has been particularly effective. “The most important mission for the intelligence service once was to neutralize any threat to democracy,” said Raul Salazar, a former defense minister under Chavez who opposes Maduro. “Now, with Cuba in charge, the government uses it to stay in power.”

Once Cuba began training DGCIM personnel, the intelligence service embedded agents, often dressed in black fatigues, within barracks. There, they would compile dossiers on perceived troublemakers and report any signs of disloyalty, according to more than 20 former Venezuelan military and intelligence officials.

The DGCIM also began tapping the phones of officers, including senior military commanders, to listen for conspiracies.

The crackdown has led to hundreds of arrests. At least 200 military officials are currently detained, according to the opposition-led National Assembly. Citizen Control, a Venezuelan organization that studies the armed forces, says the number is over 300.

In a June 2017 report, reviewed by Reuters, the DGCIM accused a soldier, who enrolled in a university considered to be aligned with the opposition, of “ideological and political subversion.” Speaking out for the first time, the former lieutenant recounted how he was handcuffed to a chair in a continuously lit room and beaten until two vertebrae broke.

“Those days had no end,” he recalled. He revealed his story to Reuters on the condition that the news agency use only his first name, Daniel, and not disclose his age.

Since its remaking, the DGCIM’s ranks have swelled – from a few hundred agents early in the Chavez administration to at least 1,500 now, according to former military officials.

A recent United Nations report accused the DGCIM of torture – including electric shocks, suffocation, waterboarding, sexual violence, and water and food deprivation. Under Maduro, DGCIM officers have been promoted to senior positions, including the command of his personal security detail.

The repression, opposition leaders say, has cowed the armed forces. Juan Guaido, head of the National Assembly, early this year denounced Maduro’s 2018 re-election as a sham and declared, with the support of most Western democracies, that he was Venezuela’s rightful leader.

But opposition pleas for a military rebellion have gone unheeded. “We have failed,” said a senior opposition official involved in attempts to broker talks with military leaders. “We have nothing to offer to convince them.”

“A BASTION OF LATIN AMERICAN DIGNITY”

For Chavez, the changes foreseen by the two agreements resonated on a personal level.

Castro, whom he had long admired, was the first international leader to embrace Chavez as a rising politician in the 1990s.

Venezuela’s military intelligence unit, meanwhile, was run by officers allied with the conservative elite and opposed to Chavez’s vision of transforming a country which, despite boasting the world’s biggest oil reserves, suffered rampant poverty.

When Chavez’s 1992 coup failed, officers from the unit, then known as the Directorate of Military Intelligence, or DIM, were the ones tasked with arresting him. They initially jailed him in one of the same underground cells at the DIM’s Caracas headquarters where Chavez would later detain some of his own political opponents, according to several former officials.

Months after his release from prison because of a presidential pardon, Chavez in 1994 flew to Havana, where Castro, in their first in-person meeting, greeted him at the airport.

In Chavez, Castro saw a like-minded leftist leader of the sort that had become rare since the end of the Cold War. In Venezuela’s vast oil wealth, Castro saw potential nourishment for a Cuban economy starved by the collapse of its former sponsor, the Soviet Union.

With Castro looking on, Chavez in a speech at the University of Havana called Cuba, then in its fourth decade of authoritarian rule, “a bastion of Latin American dignity.” He vowed to cure the capitalist “gangrene” afflicting Venezuela.

After the visit, the two men began to speak regularly, former advisors said.

By the late 1990s, high inflation, low economic growth and increased poverty made Chavez’s Socialist message attractive to a growing number of Venezuelans. In 1998, he was elected president. Almost immediately, he deepened formal links with Cuba.

In October 2000, Castro traveled to Caracas to sign a series of economic agreements. Venezuela would give Cuba enough oil to meet half its energy needs.

Since then, Venezuela has sent at least 55,000 barrels per day to the island, or more than $21 billion worth of oil, according to government figures and average prices over the period. In exchange, Cuba sent thousands of doctors, teachers and agricultural specialists to help diversify Venezuela’s grass-roots economy.

By 2002, many of Venezuela’s elite had tired of Chavez. That April, conservative opposition leaders teamed up with military chieftains, including senior DIM officials, and detained him. But the coup, after a massive popular uprising on his behalf, failed within two days.

Back in power, and with Castro’s blessing, Chavez placed Cuban advisors within his inner circle to tighten security, according to his former advisors and several former military officials. He began a purge of the intelligence service and other top ranks of the military.

He appointed Hugo Carvajal, a lieutenant colonel who had joined Chavez’s 1992 coup effort and later headed the DIM’s investigations division, to be its subdirector. Within two years, Carvajal became its director general.

Carvajal began modernizing the DIM. In an email to Reuters, Carvajal said Venezuela’s central bank provided millions of U.S. dollars in cash to the DIM for new technology, including surveillance equipment and a database to centralize intelligence.

The intelligence boss would lead the service for nearly a decade. Now out of office, he has been sanctioned by the United States Treasury Department for allegedly helping Colombian guerrillas. Last April he was arrested in Spain and remains detained in response to a U.S. warrant for alleged drug trafficking.

In the email, sent through his lawyer in Spain, Carvajal denied the accusations.

In July 2007, Chavez named Gustavo Rangel, a loyalist who headed the army reserves, as defense minister.

At his swearing-in, Rangel spoke of the need for “new Venezuelan military thinking” to counter the “real enemy.” The “empire,” he said, using common Caracas shorthand for the United States, was sponsoring “subversive groups” bent on destroying the revolution.

Reuters was unable to reach Rangel, now retired, for comment.

That December, Chavez lost the referendum on term limits. On television, he vowed a “new offensive” to pursue the goal.

Defense talks with Cuba began. At a meeting in Caracas on May 26, 2008, Rangel and General Alvaro Lopez, Cuba’s vice minister of defense, signed the two agreements.

Under the first agreement, Cuba’s defense ministry would oversee a restructuring of the DIM and advise on creating “new units” inside the service. The DIM would also send groups of as many as 40 officers to Havana for up to three months of espionage training.

According to the documents, Venezuela would send resumes of training candidates for Cuba to vet. Courses included how to handle “secret collaborators,” how to conduct criminal investigations and how to select new intelligence agents.

Most of the training, according to the documents, took place at the Comandante Arides Estevez Sanchez Military Academy in western Havana. At the academy, a cluster of white four-story buildings and parade grounds, Cuban instructors told DIM agents their mission henceforth would be to infiltrate and control the military, according to five people familiar with the courses.

The second agreement created a committee known as the Coordination and Liaison Group of the Republic of Cuba, or GRUCE. The GRUCE, comprising eight Cuban “military experts,” would send Cuban advisors to Venezuela to inspect military units and train soldiers.

One former Venezuelan intelligence official recalled training he received by Cuban instructors on a farm in the eastern Venezuelan state of Anzoategui. Instructors, he told Reuters, drilled students with questions about their political beliefs. The DIM, they said, must be the “tip of the spear” in the fight against “traitors.”

Chavez, fortified by increases in government spending that boosted his popularity, won a new referendum to end term limits.

In 2011, he changed the DIM’s name to include the term “counterintelligence,” reflecting its mission to thwart sabotage from within. By then, the new DGCIM was several hundred agents stronger, former officials said.

Fresh from Cuban training, the new agents began infiltrating barracks. “We lived and trained with the troops to monitor them, keeping the bosses informed,” another former DGCIM officer told Reuters. “We had an iron grip.”

Some agents pretended to be regular soldiers. Others donned their DGCIM uniforms and regularly encouraged soldiers to report on each other. They came to be known as “the men in black,” according to several former soldiers.

“I’ll hand you to the DGCIM,” a battalion commander warned would-be rebels, one soldier recalled. Stories of detentions and torture by DGCIM agents, sometimes wearing skeleton masks and balaclavas, spread through the ranks.

“YOU CAN’T FIGHT THE STATE”

Chavez, following four surgeries in Cuba, died in 2013. Castro in a newspaper column called him “the best friend the Cuban people had in their history.” Voters elected Maduro to succeeded him.

In 2014, oil prices plummeted.

Maduro’s effort to spur the economy failed.

Hunger and shortages hit even the armed forces. A military doctor told Reuters recently that many enlisted soldiers are underweight, subsisting primarily on pasta and lentils.

As growing numbers of troops sought to desert, the DGCIM grew more aggressive. It expanded surveillance, wiretapping senior officers.

On the top floor of its headquarters, some 40 agents in its Operational Communications Division used a platform called Genesi, according to a former member of the team.

The system, designed by Italian telecommunications firm IPS SpA, allows users to “intercept, monitor and analyze every kind of information source,” according to the company’s web site.

IPS didn’t respond to calls, emails or a letter seeking comment at its Rome headquarters. Reuters couldn’t identify an IPS office or personnel working in Venezuela.

In July 2017, Daniel, the Army lieutenant in Caracas, was summoned to his battalion commander’s office. Once a Chavez supporter, Daniel had joined the army in 2004 but under Maduro lost enthusiasm and told superiors he planned to leave. He had enrolled in law classes at a local university while still in the military and taken part in some opposition marches.

Daniel’s behavior, according to the intelligence report reviewed by Reuters, was “counter-revolutionary.” The report described the university, whose name Daniel asked Reuters not to disclose, as a school for the opposition.

Upon reporting to the commander’s office, Daniel said, three uniformed counterintelligence agents confiscated his phone and said he was needed for an “interview” at DGCIM headquarters.

Daniel said agents transferred him to an underground cell and handcuffed him to a chair. Each day, a man entered and punched him repeatedly. The beatings broke two vertebrae, according to a physician’s report reviewed by Reuters. The cell was lit all hours, causing Daniel to lose track of time.

After 20 days, a military court charged him with treason, rebellion and violating military decorum. Pending a trial, he was transferred to another prison. Six months later, after entering a guilty plea, the court released Daniel on condition he remain in the country. He was expelled from the Army.

Daniel returned to law classes, but regrets pleading guilty. “I’m not sure it was the right thing to do,” he said, but noted that many who don’t enter a plea remain detained indefinitely. “You can’t fight the state.”

The surveillance has hurt even senior officers.

One case sparked national outrage, forcing the government to recognize DGCIM abuse. Rafael Acosta, a 50-year-old Navy captain, died in DGCIM custody on June 29, eight days after agents arrested him.

Tarek Saab, Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, said Acosta was detained for participating in an unspecified “right wing” plot. Acosta’s wife, Waleswka Perez, said the accusations were untrue and accused the DGCIM of torture.

On July 1, Saab said the government had charged two DGCIM agents with homicide. He gave neither a cause of death nor the circumstances in which it occurred. The charges, Saab said in a statement, followed an “impartial” investigation into the “unfortunate event.”

Most DGCIM handiwork never comes to light.

In March 2018, five DGCIM agents summoned Lieutenant Colonel Igbert Marin, commander of the 302nd mechanized Army brigade, in Caracas. Marin, now 40 and the father of two young children, for most of his career was a rising star who had excelled at Venezuela’s top military academy.

His wife, Yoselyn Carrizales, told Reuters the agents took Marin to the Defense Ministry, where he was met by officials including Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino and Ivan Hernandez, the current head of the DGCIM.

The officials accused Marin of scheming against the government, said Carrizales, who is acting as one of Marin’s attorneys. They said they had video evidence of Marin and eight other officers conspiring, she added, but didn’t show him the video.

Marin denied the allegation, saying that the meeting in question had been merely a gathering of old academy classmates. Indignant, he told the defense minister that such accusations were counterproductive, especially at a time when most of the military was suffering from shortages of food, pay and equipment.

The minister should “leave his office, open his eyes and see how soldiers actually feel,” Marin told Padrino, according to Carrizales. Another lawyer defending Marin, Alonso Medina Roa, confirmed her account.

Neither Padrino nor Hernandez could be reached for comment.

The agents took Marin and the eight other officers to DGCIM headquarters. Marin later told his attorneys that agents handcuffed him to a chair, placed a bag over his head and filled it with tear gas. His lawyers detailed the alleged abuse to Reuters.

A week later, at a hearing Carrizales attended, a military court charged Marin with treason, instigating rebellion and violating decorum. Agents then took Marin away. He remained incommunicado for 78 days.

“I didn’t know if he was alive or dead,” said Carrizales.

Marin remains detained, and his wife continues to work for his release. Venezuelan officials haven’t publicly commented on the case or shown Marin’s lawyers the alleged video. No trial date has been set.

“They fear him,” Carrizales said. “He is an obvious leader within the armed forces. That’s why they arrested him.”

Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Caracas; Tibisay Romero in Valencia, Venezuela; Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogotá; Marianna Parraga in México City; and Angelo Amante in Rome. Editing by Paulo Prada.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-cuba-military-specialreport/special-report-how-cuba-taught-venezuela-to-quash-military-dissent-idUSKCN1VC1BX