Colombian President Iván Duque confirmed Thursday that Colombian authorities had arrested four Venezuelans organizing “destabilization operations” within the country who were “allegedly promoted and financed by the dictatorial regime of Nicolás Maduro.”
“Operation Santa Ana was carried out, where criminals were captured in our country who were trying to structure destabilization operations,” Duque said.
The arrests followed a lengthy investigation process, which saw cooperation between the police, the army, Colombian federal agencies, and U.S. support from the Investigation Office and the FBI.
The detainees include Yacsi Alaxandra Álvarez, Rayder Alexander Russo, and Juvenal and José Sequea Torres, according to Colombian newspaper El Tiempo. All those arrested were reportedly involved in “Operation Gideon,” which the Maduro regime has claimed to be an endeavor led by U.S. Special Forces veterans to oust Maduro from power. American authorities have denied any involvement with those arrested for being part of “Operation Gideon” or the operation itself.
“There was no U.S. government direct involvement in this operation,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. “(If) we’d have been involved, it would have gone differently.”
Colombian authorities made the arrests in connection with the March 23 seizure of a stockpile of weaponry and special operations supplies. The raid resulted in the confiscations of 26 AR-15 assault rifles, as well as rifle sights, radios, night visors, and an array of additional military hardware.
Complicating the matter are conflicting accounts of the detainees’ motives and intentions. Duque has vocally backed allegations of their sponsorship by the Maduro regime, insinuating their goal was to destabilize the Colombian state. The director of Colombian Police, General Óscar Atehortúa, echoed this sentiment, stating, “They were planning destabilizing actions in Colombia in our territory in order to delegitimize the institutions of the Colombian State,” according to Runrunes, a Venezuelan news outlet.
Conversely, a government source told El Tiempo that the operatives intended to work against the Maduro regime from across the border to fuel further tension between the Venezuelan government and those of Colombia and the United States. Moreover, the four captured Venezuelans allegedly maintain close ties to exiled Venezuelan General Cliver Alcalá, who is now in the custody of the United States, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.
Venezuelan authorities loudly denounced Duque’s assertion of their involvement, labeling those arrested as “mercenary deserters.” Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza claimed his government had sent Colombia information on the alleged dissidents for two years prior to their arrest. He labeled those arrested as “terrorists” and “traitors” and accused the Colombian government of protecting them.
“For two years, we gave them accurate information on the terrorist operations and they did nothing. They protected them. And this is how they pay these traitors,” he wrote on social media.
Vaya clase de desfachatez de @IvanDuque. Ahora resulta que los mercenarios desertores venezolanos iban a desestabilizar Colombia. Durante 2 años les dimos información precisa de las operaciones terroristas y jamás movieron un dedo. Los protegieron. Y así le pagan a esos traidores https://t.co/5oIr9VQvP2
— Jorge Arreaza M (@jaarreaza) September 3, 2020
Though the Maduro regime suffered decisive losses in 2015’s National Assembly elections, Maduro has held on to power through military force, intimidation tactics, and constitutional shenanigans, even creating the “National Constituent Assembly,” an illegal parallel legislature that has usurped much of the official duties of the National Assembly.
The National Assembly named Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela in January 2019, a move it has the constitutional authority to take. Though he has attained widespread international recognition as the legitimate leader of the nation, Guaidó has failed to exercise any real power, with actual control remaining in the hands of Maduro.
In April 2019, parties loyal to Guaidó attempted to lure military support away from Maduro, which led to a botched rebellion attempt that quickly subsided. Many of those involved in the rebellion eventually received pardons from the regime as part of a “goodwill gesture” in anticipation of Venezuela’s legislative elections in December.
The pardons likely represent an effort to build legitimacy around the elections, with many parties fearing electoral fraud from the regime. Most of the Venezuelan opposition leaders plan to boycott the vote over such concerns.