Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, reacted with anger to statements offered Monday by the president of the United States, Donald Trump, in Florida in support of Venezuela and its struggle to rid itself of the socialist dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro, whom he termed a “puppet” of Havana. He also accused Cuba of using its armed forces to exert control over the South American country.
This Tuesday, in a press conference, he described as “outrageous” Trump’s accusation that the island “maintains a private army in Venezuela…I’m asking you to present evidence. Our government rejects that slander in the strongest and most categorical terms,” Rodriguez said on the Twitter account of the Cuban Foreign Ministry.
When we discuss “a private army in Venezuela” as Rodriguez says, the issue really involves the presence of Cuban military personnel in the country, and years of close collaboration with the objective of controlling the Armed Forces of Venezuela.
Informal information published by Foresightcuba, which is dedicated to presenting statistics about the island, counts Cuba’s military presence in Venezuela as follows: 4,500 Cuban infantrymen organized in 8 battalions of 500 troops, plus a battalion stationed in Fuerte Tiuna; 2 Brigade Generals (Herminio Hernández Rodríguez and Alejandro Ronda Marrero, one stationed in Fuerte Tiuna, another in Barquisimeto); 4 colonels (Rodrigo Hernández Maite, Rufino Zabaleta Corvino, Jaime Freitas Sambrano, and Simon Guillermo Senior); 8 lieutenant colonels; 6 frigate captains, and 25 junior officers.
This information details who they are with name and surname, their functions, where they are based, the weapons they use, and notes that they wear Venezuelan military insignia.
A long-standing situation
According to an article published in February 2010 by journalist Leandro Dario, international assistant editor of the newspaper Dario Perfi, by that time the then president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, had incorporated the Cuban military into the Armed Forces of the country with the aim of inserting the high command of Cuba into Venezuelan military forces, to ensure their control in the barracks and project socialism.
One of the first to publicly denounce this move by Chávez was Venezuelan General Antonio Rivero, currently exiled in the United States. In April 2010 he said in an interview with La Vanguardia that “the penetration of Cuban officers into the heart of the Venezuelan armed forces is a dangerous interference in strategic areas, which allows them to know the military secrets of the country.”
This interference of the Cubans in the command of the FAN led Rivero to request their withdrawal on March 17, 2010, as he denounced “the politicization and the loss of democratic instruction that exists in the FAN.”
Rivero revealed that the island’s officers impart, monitor and supervise the “military doctrinal elements at the command and staff levels”, and also denounced that Cubans had already ordered and commanded in the Operational Strategic Command, at that time, including in areas of military engineering, intelligence, armament, and communications.
Carlos A. Romero, political scientist and full professor in the faculty of legal and political science of the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), in a working paper entitled “The foreign policy of Bolivarian Venezuela”, published on July 4, 2010, wrote that the military attaché of Venezuela in Cuba was established in 2007, and since 2009 there have been the Cuban Military, Naval, and Air Attachés and a Coordination and Liaison Group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba in Venezuela, and that it was under the command of the Brigadier General Frank Yánez.
Romero’s work indicates that up until that moment there had been no reliable information on the existence of a military treaty between the two countries, nor any purchase of war material between them or third countries, or joint military maneuvers.
The Cuba specialist emphasizes that what began as an exchange mission for military personnel has now become a strategic mission, which commenced in January 2010, when the Commander of the Revolution and Minister of Telecommunications and Information Technology of the government of Cuba, Ramiro Valdés participated in the co-coordination of the electric rationing plan in Venezuela. “This is part of the deepening of cooperation between Venezuela and Cuba that has already become an economic complement and could move to a military phase,” he wrote in his paper.
Black Wasps and 20,000 aid workers
Since those years, the participation of the Cuban military commandos in Venezuela has been publicly on display, with constant visits for training, the most recent being in September 2018, which was coordinated with the Strategic Operational Command of the Venezuelan Armed Forces (CEOFANB).
The CEOFANB publicized the presence in the country of members of the Black Wasps, the main elite force within the ranks of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba (FAR). The objective was military exercises on the border with Colombia.
On Tuesday, the Cuban foreign minister acknowledged the presence in Venezuela of more than 20,000 Cuban aid workers, but clarified that they are all civilians, “94% of them in healthcare, others in education, just like we do it in 83 countries around the world.”
But for General Rivero, he considers them to be 20,000 Cuban fighters who could come out in defense of the Bolivarian Revolution in case of a military uprising against Chavismo, as he said in January 2015 to El Nuevo Herald.
According to what Rivero said to an American newspaper, after spending more than 11 months in hiding, around 20% of the 100,000 Cubans who were at that time in Venezuela had been trained for military engagement, “and they are there to watch over the interests of Havana in the eventuality that sectors of the Bolivarian Armed Forces try to end the regime of Nicolás Maduro.”
In fact, there are numerous complaints that the Cuban G2 maintains a constant and strict vigilance over the Venezuelan military, preventing any criticism of the Venezuelan regime or possible conspiracies against it.
In fact, according to the director of the NGO Penal Forum, Gonzalo Himiob, there are currently 85 members of the Venezuelan military, of various ranks, who have been arrested for accusations of this type.
Two active Venezuelan military in exclusive statements to the BBC stated that “the individual who speaks out…imagine what they will do to him…There is a fear, the FAN was penetrated by the G2 of Cuba…many of my colleagues are in this situation, they come to you through families, they tell you ‘your children are getting bad grades’ and they are scare you, said one individual with a 30 years of service who preferred to remain anonymous.
And the Cuban intelligence service even monitors military movements of other countries that may threaten Venezuela.
The Cuban foreign minister said yesterday that he had proof of unusual military movements of the United States, and other indications that presage an imminent intervention in Venezuela, and called for an “international mobilization against war over political and ideological differences.”
As recently reported by the government of Cuba, “there have been American military transport flights originating from North American military installations, from which units of special operations and marine infantry forces are being used to carry out covert actions,” he said to the EFE.
All this indicates the presence of Cuba within the FANB and their close cooperation to maintain control of the Venezuelan military in order to perpetuate the Venezuelan regime in power. Havana would lose a lot with the departure of Maduro, and although Rodriguez denies the existence of a “Cuban private army” in Venezuela, it is because it is not private, it is so blatant and obvious that it is a matter of common knowledge.