Cuba and Venezuela signed several secret military agreements in 2008; essentially handing over control of the Venezuelan military to Cuba, said to Diálogo retired Venezuelan Army General Antonio Rivero, a former senior officer in exile in Miami since 2014. Three of these confidential agreements the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba and the Venezuelan Ministry of Defense engaged in included strengthening defense, developing intelligence, and providing technical support to the Venezuelan military.
“The presence of Cuban troops [in Venezuela] is consolidated through 15 secret agreements between Cuba and Venezuela [in 2008] to transform the Venezuelan Armed Forces and turn them into the same structure that exists in Cuba,” said Gen. Rivero, who was also head of civil protection and emergency management during the regime of Hugo Chávez, and who spoke with Diálogo about the agreements. “There was initially a lot of resistance in the barracks, but Chávez invested billions of dollars in weapons from the Russians, with Cuban mediation, and this way the Venezuelan military began to leave room for the ‘Cubanization’ of the military force.”
According to Gen. Rivero, the creation of a five-year military development between Cuba and Venezuela included the improvement of defense concepts, the creation of a radioelectronic investigative unit and radar system for defense purposes, and the exchange of intelligence. In addition, the plan also included specialized training of Venezuelan troops in Cuba as well as the creation of a Cuban military unit based in Venezuela.
All three agreements were signed and initialed by Army General Álvaro López Miera, vice minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba and head of the General Staff, and Venezuelan Army General Gustavo Reyes Rangel Briceño, Defense minister from 2008-2009.
From then on, Gen. Rivero said, Cuba began to take control of the Venezuelan military, with Cuban officers developing doctrines, training manuals and leading trainings, leaving some Venezuelan officers to feel as if they were serving in another country’s armed forces. Gen. Rivero remembered taking part in a November 2008 tunnel construction course to “create bunkers, subterraneous commands with a Vietnam War philosophy,” he said referring to the Viet Cong’s network of tunnels used to counter U.S. forces.
“The instructor, a colonel from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba, says, ‘from this point on, everything we will deal with in this course is confidential, a state secret,’” Gen. Rivero said. “So I stood up and asked: ‘How is a foreign officer like you going to teach me about state secrecy and security in my country?’”
Former Venezuelan Army Lieutenant José Antonio Colina, who fled to Miami in 2003, corroborated Gen. Rivero’s comments. “Once Hugo Chávez corrupted the Armed Forces, Cubans began to enter the military sector,” Lt. Colina told Diálogo. “They would take 200 to 300 junior officers and lock them up for three days in military training centers […] where agents of the Cuban G2 [intelligence services] would tell us that we had to help Chávez bring Venezuela to happiness like in Cuba, that we had to ‘democratize’ Venezuela […] and that the Armed Forces had to change their vision and mission.”
Onsite Cuban military unit
Among the agreements Gen. Rivero discussed with Diálogo is the one to create the Cuban Liaison and Cooperation Group (GRUCE, in Spanish), a unit made up of Cuban officers permanently based in Venezuela. The group is described as having “the objective of facilitating and coordinating the provision of assistance to Venezuela in solving its Armed Forces’ military and technical issues, to ensure the work management of military specialists of the Cuban Republic, whose mission is to provide assistance in the assimilation, operation, repair, modernization, and combative use of war material available to the Venezuelan Bolivarian Armed Forces.”
According to Gen. Rivero, GRUCE led Venezuelan troops into a five-day nationwide training exercise in December 2017, to prepare service members against eventual operations from the “enemy” — namely the United States. The military training plan cited increasing show of force and “hostility” from neighboring nations under the guise of multinational exercises such as AMAZONLOG 2017. The training plan lists potential enemy activities, adding that “operations against the presence of Cuban collaborators in [Integral Diagnostic Centers — clinics staffed with Cuban health workers], and other missions, including service members, are not to be ruled out.”
“The Cuban Liaison and Cooperation Group [is] a Cuban military unit that exits in Fort Tiuna, Caracas, that essentially distributed the Cuban deployment nationally in Venezuela, in commands of the country’s operative and strategic units, and therefore consolidating the Cuban occupation in Venezuela,” Gen. Rivero said.