Cuban, Russian, and Chinese Military Presence in Venezuela’s Armed Forces

Former Venezuelan officer Pedro Mendoza, known as the “Russian” — he attended a military school in the Eastern European country that supports Nicolás Maduro — is very clear on one thing: The influence of countries such as Cuba, Russia, and China is longstanding and key to understanding the crisis in Venezuela.
Voice of America / Edited by the Diálogo Staff | 23 July 2019

Transnational Threats

Former Venezuelan officers in exile in Colombia say that the Cuban military has been in Venezuela for two decades. (Photo: Juan Barreto, AFP)

Mendoza spoke to VOA in a recent interview in Cúcuta, Colombia, where he’s in exile, along with some 1,400 other former Venezuelan officers, who turned their backs on Maduro. Mendoza, like the other interviewees, says he’s at the service of Interim President Juan Guaidó.

He hopes, he says, to save Venezuela, and affirms that what attracts foreign governments seeking to influence the country is their interest in Venezuela’s riches.

Generating distrust among the troops has been the most efficient weapon, he says. “This has been Cuba’s true influence, the Cuban government’s influence over Venezuela, and, specifically, in the Armed Forces: for everyone to doubt each other, for everyone to fear saying anything, fear trusting anything.”

Cuba’s military presence in Venezuela has been an ongoing complaint from democratic actors as well as the Venezuelan armed forces.

“Cuba, through the Cuban G2 (or military intelligence), is responsible for distorting everything in Venezuela,” said Héctor Sarmiento, another former Venezuelan service member in exile in Colombia, referring to what he calls “disinformation” and “psychological attacks” that led to demoralization and disunity within the troops.

Neither interviewee mentioned the names of Cuban officers embedded in Venezuela.

When VOA asked Víctor Mérida, now exiled in Colombia, if he knew any Cuban service members while he was in the Bolivarian National Guard, he answered, “I didn’t see [any].”

However, he’s convinced they’re part of the Venezuelan military framework that maintains Maduro in power. “They handle that very separately […], it’s among the higher ranks,” he said.

“The Cuban military has been present since Commander Chávez assumed the presidency in Venezuela,” said Mérida, who says that the current military uniform is similar to the one members of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces wear.

The Russians and Chinese

It’s not only Cuba; Russia and China are also part of the military system that sustains Maduro in power, according to what former Venezuelan service members told VOA.

“Our land is coveted. We find ourselves in a privileged situation,” says Mendoza about the Russians, alluding to natural resources like oil and gold, which abound in the country.

About the topic of foreign interference from Russia and China, he says: “It’s there […]. Many countries want to control and meddle in our country.” Mendoza says Russia, a country he knew as a student, “is interested in Venezuela.”

He also said that “there are Chinese military service members who train in Venezuela, just like Venezuelan military service members train in China.”

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