Colombia’s government and local media are stirring concerns that Maduro has deployed spying operations on Colombian soil, without offering sound evidence to back it up, or context.
Colombian migration announced in a press release that they had discovered five Venezuelans who had entered the country illegally near the Simon Bolivar International bridge, just minutes away from the Venezuela live aid concert.
Migration said that they were “presumably engaged in activities that attempted to threaten security and social order,” without specifying what they were or how migration came to that conclusion.
More than 700 Venezuelans claiming to be associated with the military have sought refuge in Colombia. The defections are spurring concerns that some of them may have been sent as spies.
Colombian authorities identified a Venezuelan woman going by the alias of “Pau Pau” who they announced they believed was a spy. They suspected she was sent to collect information on deserters, and what Colombian authorities were doing with them.
Pau Pau was set to be deported but then apparently made a convincing enough case that she was dedicated to helping foster democracy in Venezuela that the authorities changed their minds and let her stay. Since then, she has claimed she will be killed if she returns to the neighboring country.
Venezuela’s “destabilizing activities”
Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reported earlier this week that they were given access to intelligence documents that demonstrated Venezuela has invested $5 million for destabilizing activities, which include infiltrating protests and “actions against Juan Gauido.”
El Tiempo, which cited anonymous intelligence officials, also reported that Venezuela has at least fifty intelligence agents dispersed throughout the country.
The documents seen by the newspaper also purportedly contained photos taken by Venezuelan intelligence agents of US ambassador Kevin Whitaker.
Royland Belisario, a Venezuelan intelligence agent who was implicated in a scandal in December, reportedly received the photos.
Carlos Pino, the husband of ex-Congresswoman Gloria Florez, was charged with espionage for Venezuela and deported.
However, anonymous intelligence reports cannot be verified and were not obtained by other media.
Nevertheless, coverage of the anonymous documents appeared as far away as in El Comercio in Peru.
“Of course” Venezuela’s intelligence agency SEBIN runs intelligence operations inside and outside the country, Douglas Hernandez, the editor-in-chief of military and intelligence website Fuerzas Militares, told Colombia Reports.
SEBIN is instrumental in maintaining order and brutally squashing dissent in the neighboring country. Any intelligent intelligence agency would have operations in Colombia, according to Hernandez.
Why the sudden noise about spies?
“What is showing up in the media is manipulated to alter public opinion, to turn people against Maduro and create support for military intervention. They amplify the bad and minimize the good,” the security expert told Colombia Reports.
To say that now there are Venezuelan spies in Colombia is disingenuous. There have always been spies. All countries spy on one another.
Security expert Douglas Hernandez
The Colombian government is inflating the numbers of defectors by including people who were previously in the military, said Hernandez.
Hernandez, who has dual Venezuelan-Colombian nationality, likens the situation to what occurred when paramilitary and guerrilla groups tried to demobilize in Colombia- many people who were not combatants tried to claim membership and enjoy the judicial benefits.
“Before the media was reporting that there was not a military coup because Maduro was giving lots of privileges to the military,” he said. “Now they are reporting that the military is deserting because they are suffering… they are coming for benefits.”
Hernandez said the contradictory narratives don’t add up because it is part of a strategy by the government, who is able to thoroughly interrogate and make deals with defectors before the press speaks to them, to give credibility to the defectors so that they can talk about atrocities and rile public support for further action against Venezuela.