Troops loyal to Venezuela’s socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro “clandestinely” taught members of a South American communist terrorist guerrilla group how to use Russian-manufactured surface-to-air missiles, Bloomberg reported Monday, citing Colombian authorities.
“These are weapons used by the Venezuelan armed forces,” Gen. Luis Navarro, the top commander of the Colombian armed forces, told Bloomberg, referring to the Russian-made arms in the hands of the leftist terrorist group in an interview published Monday. “We have the clear evidence and the necessary intelligence to affirm that the [National Liberation Army] ELN is considered as part of the defense of the revolution of the Maduro regime.”
On Monday, Bloomberg revealed that the embattled Maduro had enlisted the Colombian communist group known as the National Liberation Army (ELN) as he rallies all his supporters in a bid to cling to power.
Acknowledging that Maduro loyalist troops have trained ELN communist guerrilla fighters to fire Russian-made heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles, Bloomberg noted that the leftist fighters could potentially bring down warplanes fighting on behalf of the opposition, adding:
National Liberation Army fighters were instructed in how to use the Russian-manufactured IGLA surface-to-air missile system, according to General Luis Navarro, Colombia’s top-ranking soldier. The Marxist force known as the ELN has long used Venezuelan territory as a refuge and has a close ideological affinity with Maduro’s socialist government, which the U.S. is trying to topple.
Colombia’s intelligence services don’t know whether the ELN actually has acquired its own missile launchers, nor do they know whether the training was organized by a faction within Venezuela’s military or sanctioned at the highest levels in Caracas. The ELN received training clandestinely rather than at Venezuelan army bases, Navarro said.
Support from U.S. strategic rivals Russia, China, and Cuba has helped Maduro remain in power after the United States, joined by more than 50 countries, came out in support of Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president.
At the end of last month, Guaidó called for a military uprising against Maduro, but the socialist dictator is still in office, courtesy of his foreign supporters.
The failed rebellion did trigger protests across the country, and a violent backlash by Maduro loyalists, that left at least four people dead in the ensuing crackdown. Moreover, the uprising has left Venezuelan troops, some of whom backed Guaidó, in disarray.
Officials from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration insists all options are on the table, including armed intervention.
The Trump administration and its allies backing the opposition have openly urged a military rebellion while simultaneously imposing crippling economic sanctions on Maduro and his loyalists.
In the wake of the failed uprising backed by some members of the Venezuelan military, the dictator has reportedly taken steps to restrict his dependence on the South American country’s armed forces.
Instead, Maduro is increasingly relying “on gangs of armed civilian supporters, as well as Cuban and Russian advisers. The ELN, which has spread beyond the Colombian border region deep into Venezuela, frequently defends the Maduro government in its statements,” Bloomberg noted.
Israel Ramirez, a senior ELN commander known by the nom de guerre Pablo Beltran, denied any links to Maduro in a recorded message from Havana.
“At the moment, we don’t have this type of anti-aircraft weapon,” Ramirez added, referring to the Russian-manufactured missile system.
According to the CIA website, the IGLA 9K38 version has a range of 3.2 miles and a flight ceiling of 11,000 feet. The Russian-made system costs between $60,000 and $80,000 each but can be obtained more cheaply on the black market.
It can be fired from the shoulder and hone in on the heat from a warplane’s engine.
An unnamed demobilized mid-level ELN commander reportedly claimed that senior leaders of the communist group discussed the prospects of obtaining Russian missiles from the Venezuelan government at a meeting last year.
“For the Maduro government, the ELN is like an armed rearguard, which in case of a major conflict could help them a lot,” Ariel Avila, a Colombia-based expert, told PBS News Hour.
Insight Crime, which documents the activities of various armed groups in Latin America, reported in March that the ELN is active in half (12) of Venezuela’s states.
The group has reportedly become more potent following the 2016 peace deal between Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), also deemed a foreign terrorist organization by the United States.
ELN terrorists generate revenue from illegal mining, kidnapping, extortion, and the drug trade, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) revealed in its latest annual report on global terrorism.
DOS noted that ELN consists of nearly 1,500 fighters and an unknown number of supporters, adding:
The National Liberation Army (ELN) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on October 8, 1997. The ELN is a Colombian Marxist-Leninist group formed in 1964. The ELN remains focused on attacking economic infrastructure – in particular oil and gas pipelines and electricity pylons – and on extorting foreign and local companies.
Socialist policies that began under Maduro’s predecessor — the socialist Bolivarian Revolution godfather Hugo Chávez — have plunged Venezuela, once one of the wealthiest countries in Latin America, into humanitarian and security chaos.