Venezuela’s Detained Ex-Spy Chief Is No Friend of the Left

For many on the Bolivarian left, Miguel Rodriguez Torres is a human rights violator and enemy of popular movements who has aligned himself with Venezuela's violent right-wing opposition. 

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Miguel Rodriguez Torres was dismissed as interior minister in 2014 in connection to the infamous "Quinta Crespo Massacre" in which five Chavista revolutionaries were gunned down by police in an operation MRT publicly defended
Miguel Rodriguez Torres was dismissed as interior minister in 2014 in connection to the infamous "Quinta Crespo Massacre" in which five Chavista revolutionaries were gunned down by police in an operation MRT publicly defended. (Archive)
By Venezuelanalysis.com
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This month’s arrest of former Venezuelan intelligence czar Miguel Rodriguez Torres has provoked alarm among certain progressive and leftist sectors internationally, particularly in the United States.

Last week, the National Lawyers Guild – a longtime defender of Venezuela’s sovereignty against US intervention – penned a letter to President Nicolas Maduro demanding the immediate release of Rodriguez Torres, calling his arrest a “blatant violation of the principles of due process.”

The former interior minister was detained by Venezuelan intelligence personnel on March 13 and is being accused of “plots and conspiracy which had as their malicious intention to threaten the monolithic unity of our National Bolivarian Armed Forces.”

Many of the key details of the case remain unknown, including whether Miguel Rodriguez Torres (MRT) has yet been indicted, the nature of any formal charges, his treatment while in detention, and whether a warrant has been issued.

Given that we do not yet have the full facts at hand, we at Venezuelanalysis do not take a position on the legitimacy or lack thereof of MRT’s detention, nor do we venture any hypotheses regarding his alleged guilt or innocence. We do, in any case, affirm that as a general rule, arbitrary arrests without evidence of wrongdoing should always be condemned, no matter the political beliefs of the person arrested. If this proves to be the case with regard to MRT, he should be immediately released.

However, as an independent media outlet dedicated to providing an alternative vision of Venezuela from the standpoint of the Bolivarian grassroots, we have a duty to contextualize for our international audience who is Miguel Rodriguez Torres.

To some western progressives, the former head of Venezuela’s national intelligence service is seen as a dissident Chavista who embodies the “real” left-wing of the Bolivarian process confronting the increasingly “authoritarian” Maduro government.

However, for many on the Bolivarian left, MRT is a human rights abuser and enemy of popular movements who has aligned himself with the elements of the right-wing opposition who are wedded to a strategy of violent regime change.

The Quinta Crespo Massacre

Rodriguez Torres served in the army alongside Hugo Chavez, participating in the February 4, 1992 civic-military uprising and serving prison time with the future president in Yare.

Following the 2002 US-backed coup that ousted Chavez for 47 hours, MRT was appointed director of the national intelligence service (DISIP, later SEBIN), a post he occupied for more than five years.

After Chavez’s death in 2013, Rodriguez Torres went on to become the nation’s top law enforcement official under Maduro, heading the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace.

However in October 2014, he was dismissed from his post following the controversial killing of five members of revolutionary organizations, known as collectives, in central Caracas.

On October 8 of that year, special investigative police (CICPC) personnel conducted a raid on the high-rise Manfredir apartment building, home to 242 families, allegedly to make arrests in relation to an undisclosed criminal case. An eight-hour standoff ensued between CICPC and two pro-government collectives, in the midst of which March 5 Front collective leader Jose Odreman was filmed by press denouncing the operation as a “paid assassination”. Odreman held Minister Rodriguez Torres responsible for “whatever might happens.” He was reportedly gunned down just hours later by the CICPC.

Following the operation, MRT defended the actions of the CICPC, denouncing “Odreman’s band” as a “criminal” and “delinquent” gang of ex-policemen.

The incident sparked a public outcry, with collectives taking to the streets to demand the Maduro government “take responsibility and intervene in the Interior Ministry and the CICPC for these lamentable actions that violate constitutional rights.”

The controversy came to a head with the publication of an op-ed by former Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel calling the operation a “massacre” and urging government action.

“The way in which functionaries of the CICPC assassinated five Chavista militants, members of a collective, instead of detaining them and notifying a public defender, proceeded to gun them down in front of their families… it’s something unacceptable in a democracy,” Vicente Rangel wrote.

MRT’s subsequent dismissal was applauded by many on the Bolivarian left, including popular militant and revolutionary Roland Denis, who penned an article at the time entitled, “Popular Victory: Finally a Minister is Worth Less than the Lives of Massacred Popular Fighters.”

Rodriguez Torres had previously earned the ire of a number of grassroots revolutionary movements with his Voluntary Disarmament Plan, which while reportedly reducing crime, was viewed by Denis and other activists as an effort to criminalize organized revolutionary groups among the poor, namely the collectives.

Moving rightward

Following his dismissal as interior minister, Miguel Rodriguez Torres has moved steadily to the right. It is now difficult indeed to distinguish MRT from numerous right-wing opposition hardliners.

Amid the late 2016 political crisis triggered by a Venezuelan court’s controversial suspension of the recall referendum process on the grounds of irregularities, MRT unambiguously lined up on the side of the right-wing opposition.

Echoing the demands of former Lara Governor and current opposition presidential frontrunner Henri Falcon, MRT proposed “general elections” and the establishment of a transitional “consensus government” together with the opposition, despite President Nicolas Maduro having two years left in his elected term.

Rodriguez Torres also opposed the May 1 convening of a National Constituent Assembly (ANC) as a solution to the country’s political impasse marked by deadly right-wing protests that would result in over 125 deaths over the course of four months. The way in which he did that was disturbing.

At the time, MRT ominously warned that the military may not support the election of the citizen’s body charged with drafting a new constitution.

“If President Maduro thinks that all of the base of the FANB supports the Constituent [Assembly], he’s mistaken,” he tweeted.

The ex-minister similarly expressed support for then Attorney General Luisa Ortega, who at the time was facing widespread criticism for permissiveness and inaction in response to opposition political violence, which included assassinations of Chavista leaders, lynchings of Afro-Venezuelans, as well as attacks on state institutions, maternity clinics, and food distribution centers. Ortega Diaz fled Venezuela last August after being dismissed from her post on the grounds of “grave misconduct” and subsequently being charged with operating an extortion ring out of the Attorney General’s office. In subsequent months, the fugitive ex-prosecutor has been on a regional tour, meeting with representatives of right-wing administrations throughout the hemisphere.

In late June 2017, MRT was accused by the government of links to renegade CICPC officer Oscar Perez who stole a helicopter and carried out a terrorist attack on the Supreme Court and Interior Ministry.

While denying any ties to Perez, MRT responded to official accusations that he had maintained unauthorized contact with the CIA and other foreign intelligence agencies during his tenure as intelligence czar, claiming he did so only on the instructions of President Hugo Chávez.

Following the July 30 ANC elections, MRT made public his association with Venezuela’s right-wing opposition, including those who are actively organizing for extra-legal regime change.

For example, on August 6, the retired major general participated alongside Luisa Ortega in the “Meeting in Defense of the Constitution” at the conservative Andres Bello Catholic University.

The speaker list was headlined by a number of Venezuela’s most prominent right-wing politicians, including former National Assembly President Julio Borges, Miranda Governor and two-time opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, and ultra-right Popular Will party leader Freddy Guevara. In addition to penning op-eds in Venezuelan newspapers calling for coup d’états, Borges spent the better part of last year lobbying international banks and foreign governments to impose sanctions against his own country. Guevara, for his part, was the main instigator of 2017’s insurrectionary protests, repeatedly calling on his supporters to take to the streets to oust Maduro by any means necessary. Capriles, who himself was arrested by MRT’s intelligence service for his role in the 2002 coup, is infamous for his refusal to recognize his defeat in the 2013 presidential elections and his subsequent calls for his supporters to "vent" their "rage" in the streets, leaving at least seven government supporters dead.

MRT’s presence at the conference can in no way be construed as “innocent”, as even staunch dissident Chavista critic Hector Navarro said he would “definitely not” have attended. Rather, his appearance is symptomatic of the ex-minister’s opportunistic rightward turn.

Months later, in another indication of his firm embrace of the country’s right-wing opposition, MRT penned an essay in Aporrea, in which he accused the government of deliberately promoting poverty among the Venezuelan population.

“The creation of poverty has been state policy [under the Maduro administration], aimed at institutionalizing people’s dependence on government handouts,” he wrote this past November.

Likewise, he recognized the “tireless labors” of the Organization of American States with respect to Venezuela, as well as that of the Lima Group, which he said, “originated from the search for solutions to the worst political, economic, and social crisis experienced by the country with the largest proven oil reserves in the world.”

Both the OAS and the Lima Group – which brings together over a dozen of the most right-wing and pro-U.S.governments in the hemisphere in opposition to Caracas – have been instrumental in providing cover for US and Canadian sanctions which are severely exacerbating the current economic crisis.

If any doubts remained regarding Rodriguez Torres’ political leanings, one only need look as far as his February 2018 endorsement of billionaire Venezuelan businessman Lorenzo Mendoza as an opposition unity candidate to challenge Maduro.

In an interview, the former intelligence czar praised the president of Venezuela’s largest food company as a leader who can “breathe fresh air into democracy."

The son of one of Venezuela’s oldest oligarchic families, Mendoza has long been accused by popular movements of taking millions in state dollars purportedly for raw material imports while deliberately suppressing production of corn flour, a staple of the Venezuelan diet.

Most recently, MRT’s political party, the Broad Defiance Movement (MADDT), joined the Broad Front for a Free Venezuela (FAVL) – a new coalition comprised of the right-wing parties of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), the 2002 coup-supporting Fedecameras business lobby, the Catholic and evangelical churches, as well as conservative university student and faculty groups.

The inaugural action of the new alliance was the convening of a poorly-attended protest outside the United Nations headquarters in Caracas demanding that the international body not send an observer mission to monitor Venezuela’s May 20 presidential elections.

That is, in joining the FAVL, Rodriguez Torres and his political party now stand to the right of even opposition moderates like Henri Falcon, who has defied the MUD boycott of presidential elections and is openly lobbying for UN observers.

The urgency of solidarity

In the face of the escalating Trump-led regime change agenda, the Venezuelan people need international solidarity now more than ever. At the core of this solidarity is respect for self-determination and we should be extremely cautious about taking sides, or appearing to take sides in an internal power struggle with regards to highly questionable individuals like MRT when the facts of the case have yet to emerge.

Nevertheless, we take very seriously the concerns expressed by the NLG and others with regard to due process, though we must recognize that neither we nor any other external observers are in a position to certify whether those guarantees have or have not been upheld in this case and would therefore caution against reaching hasty conclusions, especially in light of the ongoing media war against Venezuela.

Rather, those who seek to stand with the Bolivarian Revolution must do everything in their power to oppose intervention by Washington and its allies following the example of the over 150 US and Canadian activists and intellectuals who signed a recent statement opposing their government’s illegal sanctions.

Moreover, meaningful international solidarity means backing Venezuela’s revolutionary popular movements, who will inevitably be at the receiving end of a US-backed government’s bloody repression as they were during the 2002 coup and the 1989 Caracazo uprising.

Only by standing with the Bolivarian grassroots, for whom the primary contradiction is US-led imperialism and its local proxies, can our solidarity be more than just words.

Drafted by Venezuelanalysis.com's editorial team and endorsed by Lucas Koerner, Cira Pascual Marquina, Paul Dobson, Katrina Kozarek, Rachael Boothroyd-Rojas, and Gregory Wilpert.