EspañolIn 2012, former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced that at least 44,000 Cubans were working in “social missions” throughout Venezuela, welfare programs created by the Chavista government, that had then been in power for 13 years.
However, General Ángel Vivas was one of those who publicly criticized the Cuban presence, alleging it was spearheading wider interference in Venezuela’s politics, economics, and armed forces by Havana.
In 2008, Vivas was arrested and charged with insubordination for petitioning the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) over its denial of a petition he had filed. Vivas had taken issue with the armed forces’ new motto, “Homeland, Socialism, or Death,” a creation of former Cuban President Fidel Castro.
The former Venezuelan army general further clashed with the government of Nicolás Maduro in February 2014. Vivas took up position with a rifle on the roof of his house, resisting arrest for accusations that he was responsible for the death of a motorcyclist, who was killed when he rode into metal wires strung across the street. The incident took place during a wave of opposition protests, which were routinely subject to attack by Chavista supporters on motorcycles.
In December, Vivas announced the creation of the national Anti-Castro-Communist Venezuelan Resistance, an organization with the objective of combating Cuba’s influence over Caracas. Vivas spoke of his political struggle and his new initiative with the PanAm Post.
Mission: Capture Venezuela
“It’s nothing new, nor did it start with Chávez,” Vivas says, arguing that Cuba’s penetration of its South American neighbor began as early as 1959, when Fidel Castro directed his gaze towards Venezuela and its immense natural wealth, above all in petroleum reserves.
“There was a huge war over almost 10 years [1949-59], in which the Cubans and Fidel Castro penetrated different parts of national territory, especially in coastal areas,” he explains, adding that Venezuelan guerrilla were also trained in Cuba and returned to their homeland to carry out attacks. For Vivas, Castro “wanted to take Venezuela by force.”
During the 1960s, the Venezuelan army was engaged in asymmetrical warfare with communist guerrilla, inspired by fierce rhetoric from Fidel Castro against Venezuela, and killing large numbers of soldiers and rural farm laborers.
In response, Venezuela’s top military commanders created a unit of Cazadores (“Hunters”), an elite body of regular soldiers who confronted and expelled the majority of Cuban cells operating within the country.
In November 1963, the Betancourt government presented proof about Cuban operations in Venezuela to the Organization of American States (OAS). Soldiers captured significant numbers of armed foreigners on Venezuela’s northern coast. Following an OAS investigation, in July 1964 it declared Cuba “guilty of aggression and intervention in Venezuelan affairs.” Cuba was expelled from the multilateral organization and member-states, with the exception of Mexico, broke diplomatic and commercial relations with the island.
Ángel Vivas reiterates that while Cubans had been active in his country for 55 years, Chávez increased the scale of Cuban activity to “brazen and incredible” levels. The late Venezuelan leader began by receiving some 2,000 Cuban doctors, but the “current situation has come to be so alarming” that the Venezuelan electoral system and civil registry (SAIME) is now completely subject to the Caribbean interlopers.
In February 2014, a series of protests against President Nicolás Maduro began, and video images were screened around the world showing elements of the National Guard committing acts of violence towards opposition demonstrators.
General Vivas says that upon observing the “abuse of power” by Venezuelan soldiers towards citizens who were exercising their right to peaceful protest, he issued an video clip in which he called for Castroist elements within the country to “cease bearing arms against the population.”
On Saturday, February 22, Nicolás Maduro issued a television and radio broadcast to demand Vivas’s arrest, accusing him of “training” those responsible for stringing a guaya (steel cable) across Caracas’s Rómulo Gallegos avenue, causing the death of a young motorcyclist on the previous day.
“Throwing me in prison for telling unarmed citizens how to defend themselves with a wire against criminal bands, tanks, and missiles, is an aberration,” he wrote on Twitter. He’d formerly used the social network to disseminate strategies about how to use guarimbas (barricades) as a form of protest.
On Sunday, February 23, the first military units came to his house — among them several Cubans, Vivas alleges — saying that they had an order for his arrest. Vivas refused to open the gates to his house until his lawyers arrived. Citizens opposed to the government gathered in the street outside the general’s house to support him. When his legal advisers arrived, they reported that the document being presented by the authorities had no legal foundation; if he was taken from his house, they said, it could be considered a kidnapping.
If Maduro’s asking me to submit to the law, he has to do so first.
When Vivas saw that the soldiers were storming the gate of his house, he decided to “exercise the right of legitimate defense, acting in the process like an officer of the army,” and he appeared brandishing a rifle to avoid being arrested.
The general adds that when the authorities saw the popular support that he enjoyed, they sent a delegation to negotiate and meet with his lawyers. “They thought that I was going to ask for money, and that they’d then let me leave the country,” he relates.
“What I asked for in writing, as later came to light, was that I told them I’d submit to the law if they met three conditions first,” Vivas says.
Firstly, “that the usurper of the presidency of the republic, the man that goes by the name of Nicolás Maduro Moros, prove the legality and legitimacy of his power in accordance with Article 2 of the Constitution, that he proves that he’s a Venezuelan. If he’s asking me to submit to the law, he has to do so first,” he said.
Secondly, “I also asked that every Cuban within the public administration, in all the structures of power, including the armed forces, should be expelled from Venezuela.”
For General Ángel Vivas, Venezuela was under “foreign occupation.” In response, “I made a call for the nation to declare itself in open resistance. Joining together is the only way we’ll be able to expel the Cuban invaders from our territory and begin to restore the republic once more,” he concludes.
Fergus Hodgson contributed to this article. Translated by Laurie Blair.