The former head of Venezuela’s feared secret police force, the SEBIN, published a video Thursday confirming his defection from the socialist regime of Nicolás Maduro and urging the country to move towards “reconstruction and a return to order.”
Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, who ran the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, the police arm tasked with imprisoning and torturing political dissidents, until his defection on April 30, had not resurfaced since leaving the Maduro regime after President Juan Guaidó called for a military uprising that day.
Cristopher was the only senior Maduro regime official to heed Guaidó’s calls, making freeing Leopoldo López, the head of Guaidó’s socialist Popular Will political party, his last act as leader of SEBIN.
This week, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the U.S. Treasury Department would lift sanctions on Cristopher personally in recognition of his decision to join the opposition, offering the same benefits to other senior members of the regime should they abandon Maduro.
“While the United States has sanctioned more than 150 government officials and state-owned businesses loyal to the dictator, America has also made it clear that these sanctions need not be permanent,” Pence said, adding:
Just as the National Assembly [of Veneuzela] has promised to provide amnesty to anyone who has not committed a war crime, so too the United States of America will consider sanctions relief for all those who step forward, stand up for the constitution, and support the rule of law.
Maduro responded to Pence’s comments by alleging the vice president is a member of the Ku Klux Klan, a claim he did not corroborate with any evidence.
In his video, Cristopher condemns the Maduro regime’s impulse to blame foreign governments, particularly the United States, for the current woeful state of Venezuela and claims he spoke to President Donald Trump about lifting sanctions on the country. At the moment, the Treasury has levied significant sanctions on individuals in the Maduro regime, including Maduro himself, and on the industries that Maduro controls and uses to fund repression of dissidents.
[#AHORA] "Sacrifiqué todo (…) le solicité al presidente Donald Trump que levantara las sanciones a nuestro país y respondió que lo haría pero cuando hubiese otra administración": Habla Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, el exjefe del Sebin que se sublevó a Maduro pic.twitter.com/hnRkhox5Wm
— NTN24 Venezuela (@NTN24ve) May 9, 2019
“I sacrificed everything. … Those who know me in sports, academics, the military, and family spheres know … my head-on struggle with the revolution and against injustice,” he said in the video. “Enough with blaming the world for the misfortunes of our country and continuing to demand more sacrifices from our population while some officials have made a fortune and taken them out to other countries.”
Cristopher stated that “one of [his] detractors” asked him to request that Washington lift sanctions on Venezuela.
“I asked President Donald Trump to lift sanctions on our country and he said that he would as soon as there was another administration in charge in our country because the current one would continue to steal our resources and continue the suffering of our society,” he alleged.
“I believe and am sure that we deserve a better country, and we should all work to reconstruct and reorder the state,” Cristopher concluded in the video.
Cristopher published a letter following Guaidó’s announcement of a military uprising on April 30 confirming that he was leaving his post as head of SEBIN. In that letter, he did not explicitly support Guaidó or personally attack Maduro, instead accusing the regime and all of its members generally of blaming its incompetence on the United States and failing to meet the needs of the people. He repeatedly denied betraying Venezuela.
Maduro rapidly replaced Cristopher with his predecessor, Gustavo González López, whom Maduro had replaced following the death of opposition politician Fernando Albán. The SEBIN arrested Albán in October. He was “found dead” at SEBIN’s headquarters before being processed legally or charged with any crime. Maduro’s forces claimed that he had committed suicide, jumping out of a bathroom window to avoid prosecution, but provided no evidence that absolved them of the death. Dissidents widely consider Albán’s death a murder.
Opposition leaders now fear that the first public official arrested in the second Gónzalez López era, Vice President of the National Assembly Edgar Zambrano, will meet the same fate. Accused of “treason” for supporting Guaidó, SEBIN agents confronted Zambrano on Wednesday night. Zambrano, in his car, refused to leave the vehicle and permit the officers to arrest him, so they used a tow truck to haul him and his car to the Helicoide, the SEBIN headquarters used as a torture center and political prisoner.
“The arbitrary arrest yesterday evening of Edgar Zambrano, First Vice President of Venezuela’s National Assembly, is an unacceptable and illegal act that is yet another reflection of the repression of the former Maduro regime,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday. “This assault on the National Assembly should serve as a clarion call to the region and the world that the dictatorship is not interested in constitutional solutions to the Venezuelan people’s problems.”
The United States, like most of the countries in the Western Hemisphere, recognize Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela.