Admiral Craig Faller of the U.S. Southern Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro no longer trusts his own people, so he has imported a squad of Cuban bodyguards for protection.
“I think it’s a good sense of where the loyalty of the Venezuelan people are, that his immediate security force is made up of Cubans,” Adm. Faller said.
Faller testified that “following the Cuban government’s advice and assisted by its intelligence machinery,” Maduro is “adhering to the autocratic blueprint Cuban leaders have ruthlessly executed for over six decades.”
Asked how many Cuban troops Maduro is employing as bodyguards, he replied, “I don’t have that number. I’d say there are many.”
In 2017, a high-ranking Maduro regime defector estimated that Maduro had imported nearly 100,000 Cuban government officials to run the Venezuelan government.
Faller said Cuban operatives have become the “center of gravity” for Maduro’s regime as Havana “pretty much owns the security around Maduro and is deeply entrenched in the intelligence services.”
Faller also mentioned reports of Russian security forces flown into Venezuela to protect Maduro and said China is not only providing diplomatic support but is “involved in cyber ways that are not helpful to a democratic outcome.”
“The situation is dire,” said the chief of Southern Command. “Maduro’s illegitimate government starves its people by using food as a weapon, while corrupt generals are rewarded with money from illegal drug trafficking, oil profits and businesses, all at the expense of the population and the rank and file military.”
Faller is not the first U.S. official to report Cuban forces moving in to protect Maduro. Last week, the new State Department envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, said “the only people willing to die for Maduro may be Cubans, who are his security guards.”
“No regime has done more to sustain the nightmarish condition of the Venezuelan people than the regime in Havana,” Abrams’ boss, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said last month.
Also last month, National Security Advisor John Bolton used the moniker common in Venezuelan refugee communities “Cubazuela” and said Maduro has allowed “penetration” by other U.S. adversaries, including Iran, which covets Venezuela’s uranium deposits. Admiral Faller told the Senate Armed Services Committee he agreed with Bolton’s assessment.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) spoke in terms similar to Abrams in an interview on Friday. “Cuba is the only reason Venezuela is where it is. If it wasn’t for the Cuban thugs that are there taking care of Maduro, Maduro would already be gone.”
Reports of Cuban troops in Venezuela are not coming exclusively from American sources. Brazil’s top diplomat Ernesto Araujo said on Thursday that Cuban soldiers are the only thing keeping Maduro in power.