Venezuela Zona Gris

Is Venezuela a Gray Zone?

Maduro against the people (I)

The association with organized crime and non-state armed groups makes absolute sense for Nicolás Maduro, as does the alliance with Russia, China, and Iran. The circumstantial integration of these elements in Venezuela matches with the diagnosis of the Gray Zone where the State has been dissolved. The investigation is available at

We used to know when a war started and when it ended.  One country invaded another, a territory was occupied, and whoever won kept that territory.  There were parameters to establish who was the winner in a conflict and who was the loser.  But this changed.  The world no longer works like this.  Wars are multidimensional: cyberspace, public opinion, international markets… the number fields of unconventional conflict is endless.  And this conflict is diffuse, ambiguous, and gray.  This confusing terrain is probably now developing somewhere in the world, and that place could be Venezuela.

Previously, the new combat typology gave hybrid warfare the role of displacing the traditional confrontations between large military contingents.  In fact, there is less and less talk of conventional wars, partly because ambiguity has become a strategy to confuse the adversary.  It all got together.  Suddenly, terrorism, insurgency, common crime, were mixed with formal military operations.  There have been changes in the way war is waged and this evolution materialized in this century is interpreted as a reaction to the military superiority of the United States.

In the book “The Future War”, famous war studies professor Lawrence Freedman refers to the West being unprepared for this new type of conflict.

Los parámetros que definían claramente un conflicto han cambiado.

The First Chechen War (1994-1996) generated the first known mention in U.S. documents of hybrid warfare to warn of tactics employed by the Chechen insurgency against the Russian army, but it was James Mattis, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, who theorized about the term in the study “The War of the Future: The Coming of Hybrid Conflict” in 2006, referring to the war between Israel and Hezbollah.  Years later the Russian interventions in Crimea and Ukraine made the hybrid wars a global debate.

In 2019, the Chief of Staff of the Spanish Joint Cyber Defense Command, Enrique Cubeiro Cabello, contributed to the debate on this type of conflict: “Unlike a war with classic fronts, hybrid warfare combines the use of unconventional military strategies with hostile operations of persuasive intelligence or political and economic threats and pressures.  Actions that seek the ultimate goal of weakening and subduing the will of the adversary”.

Then the scene became even more complex.  The use of new technologies, especially the Internet, implied a leap in qualitative terms.  We began to talk about cyber-attacks, disinformation or propaganda, developed in cyberspace.  Narrative control became a priority.

Can Venezuela be a
Gray Zone?

Grey Zone is a territory built by groups or countries that take advantage of the state vacuum to blur borders, which facilitates their expansion.  The creation of this space is usually promoted by countries traditionally regarded as revisionists.  It is a fluid, adaptive system that is usually sustained by irregular armed groups linked to illegal trade such as drugs.

Josep Baqués Quesada, PhD in Political Sciences and professor at the University of Barcelona, explains that the Gray Zone responds to a maneuver where open warfare is ruled out mainly due to the military response capabilities maintained by the powers defending the status quo.  This is a way of achieving objectives of great strategic relevance without the need to generate a casus belli, in this sense, the actors try not to cross certain red lines.  Those who generate a Gray Zone take into account the parameters of international law (Article 51 of the United Nations Charter), under which this could be interpreted as political prudence.

“This is one of the reasons that makes plausible the hypothesis that this type of low-intensity conflict is bound to proliferate in the coming years.  Ideally, the Gray Zone should cover its objectives without triggering any war, although it could also plan the start of a hybrid war based on its prior establishment”, explains Baqués.

“Many of the actors involved in conflicts know that they do not have force or do not want a direct warlike confrontation.  They are powers such as China, Russia, and Iran, opposed to the United States, which, allied at the moment, may be coordinated, but not necessarily aligned”, says Guillem Colom, professor of Political Sciences at Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Spain.

“As a matter of fact, the Gray Zone is used because the other options could trigger a war escalation.  The Gray Zone manages to deploy all the expected effects; it can cause relevant changes in the global political system, with little or no wear and tear on the part of those who generate it.  In the case of Venezuela, some countries are trying to strengthen or maintain a government that is technically being questioned by the international community.  The objective then would be to use the Venezuelan state, to guide it towards a position that suits them in terms of world geopolitics”, says Baqués.

“In fact, China, Russia, and Iran have managed to keep Venezuela away from the orbits of liberal democracies, from the rule of law in the world and have pressured Venezuela to confront Washington, trying to turn it into the new Cuba”, Colom said.

In the Gray Zone, social cohesion is undermined and fractured, the population loses confidence in itself and in its leadership, the liberal political system and the business sector decline, and the image of national and international organizations is affected.  It is a deliberate attack on the vulnerabilities of democratic states, their institutions, and their people.

It is a slippery slope that generates or takes advantage of disinformation and deception, where political propaganda campaigns are a strong tool, as well as the struggle between narratives to impose their legitimacy on public opinion, both domestic and foreign.  These are operations that involve irregular groups with state officials, with the strengthening of civil resistance techniques.  From this space, cyber-attacks abound.

Allied with criminals

“We’re coming for you.  This spilled blood is not going to stay like this (…).  Get out of Venezuela!” shouted Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López, addressing the Colombian guerrillas through the media in a planned public performance intended to wash his face before the troops who were still mourning three Venezuelan soldiers killed and ten others wounded in an ambush by (Colombia´s) National Liberation Army, ELN.

The crime was the guerrilla’s response to the arrest of Luis Felipe Ortega Bernal, alias Garganta, wanted for terrorism, rebellion and kidnapping.  His arrest was not particularly difficult.  His whereabouts were known to Venezuelan authorities who searched for him in the indigenous community of Picatonal, in Puerto Ayacucho, Amazonas.

It was mid-November 2018 and Major General Manuel Cristopher Figuera had not yet completed one month in the position of director of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, Sebin.  He had listened carefully to his boss’s speech.  Then, when he expressed his complacency for the firmness of his words, Padrino surprised him with his answer: “These men (the guerrillas) must be asked for permission so as not to get us into trouble”.

The performance of Padrino López from the Ministry of Defense during seven years has been key in the deformation of the Venezuelan Armed Forces.  Such deformation extends under Maduro’s command to national and regional civilian and military security institutions.  In Venezuela, all these organizations are associated with non-state armed groups in violation of the law and the principle of sovereignty.

The alliance with the Colombian guerrilla was started by Hugo Chávez on the first day of his government.  We found a secret document that proves it.  The document, dated August 10, 1999, signed by Captain Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, establishes cooperation agreements between the irregulars and the new president.  Rodríguez Chacín had a record of having been one of the perpetrators of the El Amparo Massacre, where 14 fishermen were murdered on the banks of La Colorada stream in Apure state, on the Colombian border, on October 29, 1988.  Chávez had appointed Rodriguez Chacín as Head of Intelligence of the political police still called DISIP, although his inclination was always towards covert actions.  This one, in particular, entrusted by Chávez, was ignored by his boss, the director of the police, Army Lieutenant Colonel Jesús Urdaneta Hernández.

Padrino López es responsable de la deformación de la fuerza armada venezolana.

That is how Chávez operated.  Rodríguez Chacín’s relationship with the armed insurgency still continues today, as evidenced by the events that took place between March and May 2021 in Apure state, in which Rodríguez Chacín was the negotiator to reach agreements with the dissidence of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC.

The document signed by Chávez and the guerrilla established some limits on the insurgents’ actions in the Venezuelan territory (no attacks, no training of militants) in exchange for the privilege of access to direct contact with the high command, medicines, oil sales, financing and support for asylum and transit.

We need to remember that the Gray Zone is usually expressed in the integration of powerful criminal elements and irregular movements alongside formal institutions.  The coexistence of criminals with State officials is impossible to materialize without the accompaniment of the high government.

That is part of the explanation why Venezuela is plagued by non-state armed groups.  A confidential investigation carried out by Insight Crime Foundation provided evidence that these groups are being propped up by Nicolás Maduro through a criminal-political nexus in which the regime also participates in the income obtained from their crimes.

-If you want to read about this investigation, please visit

Non-State Armed Groups

The research in which Insight Crime participated documented the existence of the 30 most powerful non-state armed groups in Venezuela.  We have integrated this valuable research work with that of other specialists.  Most agree that the five most relevant groups are: the “colectivos”, the “megabandas”, the “trenes” and “pranes”, the guerrillas and the drug cartels.

The study states that some of these non-state armed groups act with the sole objective of obtaining money from their misdeeds by means of drug trafficking or other crimes ranging from extortion, smuggling fuel, food and medicines, to the extraction of mining resources.

Bandas armadas tomaron Venezuela : 30 grupos armados no estatales han venido tomando el territorio venezolano con la anuencia de las autoridades

Other groups are commissioned for political work, which is highly valued by the regime.  In the popular sectors, Cuban-trained citizens are often accredited by official civilian and military intelligence agencies to search for information and hunt down freethinkers.  Whoever is detected or pointed out by whistleblowers ends up accused, tortured, and thrown in Venezuelan dungeons; some have even been murdered.  Many of the armed groups impose social control and exercise government functions, including the “colectivos”.

The "Colectivos"

Created by Hugo Chávez, the “colectivos” are groups with political roots to which he granted permission to exercise violence to defend his supposed revolution.  They have received financial support and weapons from the government.  They exercise social control in the community with great force in the 23 de Enero slum, right next to Venezuela´s Presidential Palace, Miraflores.  Of these groups, a few have maintained the reason for their origin; most have plunged into crime and violence inside and outside their territory.  They include Alexis Vive, Tres Raíces, La Piedrita, Los Tupamaros, and Movimiento de Liberación Carapaica.  In relevant moments of street protests, they have acted violently against the population.

The "Megabandas"

Since Maduro came to power, a plan designed by the Cubans who, aware of the little charisma and leadership of Chávez’s replacement, needed to guarantee absolute control of the neighborhoods, began to be implemented.  The aim was to go beyond the exercise of the armed “colectivos” to other areas of enormous population and topographic complexity.

The plan began in 2013 in Petare, east of Caracas.  A young man named Wilexis Alexander Acevedo Monasterios, who at the age of 20 was already serving a sentence in the Tocorón prison for murder, kidnapping, extortion, and robbery, was released from prison to be invested as a justice of the peace by the new Maduro government.  Wilexis assumed his role even to sentence to death anyone who disobeyed his rules.  By means of his weapons, he won the fear and, having many resources, he also won the appreciation of the community.  In a short time, he was able to recruit about 300 young people between 13 and 30 years of age who had to be ready to shoot people, so he was equipped with AR15 assault rifles, Uzi machine guns, pistols, grenades, and then drones and sophisticated communication equipment.  No one was allowed to protest in Petare.

In 2017, the strategy of neighborhood control spread to several sectors of the country and to a large part of the west of the capital, the Cota 905, located between the neighborhoods of La Vega, Santa Rosalía, and El Paraíso, where approximately 300,000 people live.  That year Cota 905 was named a “Peace Zone”, after an agreement between the regime and the criminal gangs was signed so that the security forces would not enter their territory in exchange for keeping the community at bay.  The plan seemed to work for Maduro until early 2021.  The gang’s leaders, Carlos Calderón, a.k.a. El Vampi, Garbis Ochoa Ruiz, a.k.a. El Garbis, and Carlos Luis Revette, a.k.a. El Koki, managed the proceeds of their misdeeds and the people never protested.  They performed government functions; for example, if there was a lack of water service, they would hijack a tanker truck; they paid for building materials if houses needed repairing; they organized food and toy distribution days for memorable celebrations, and provided the best parties and sporting events.  The band reached the highest part of the slum, where no authority has ever had any access.  It was an oasis for crimes.  They could extort, rob or kidnap in other neighborhoods, and in Cota 905 they were protected. 

The two mega-gangs in Caracas became crime rings with their own armies equipped with weapons supplied by the regime, which increased their power as the economic crisis worsened. But the honeymoon was over.  First, it was Wilexis who rose up in Petare in 2019 when the police killed a loved one, his squire, and then it was the bosses of the Cota 905 gang who decided to expand their territory of control so the regime was forced to execute an elaborate operation with more than 3 thousand officials.  Thus, at least temporarily, it regained control of neighborhoods in the east and west of the capital, although none of the gang leaders were caught. It has been confirmed that one of them was protected by the former Minister of Youth and Sports, Antonio Álvarez, a.k.a. El Potro, who protected El Koki in the facilities of the National Institute for Racetracks. This probably happened again in other moments. It has been proven that the Cota 905 gang had people employed in the vice-presidency with Delcy Rodríguez and that “El Vampi” has frequently provided security services in the gold mines to regime officials.

"Pranes" and "Trenes"

“Pranes” (shot callers) and “trenes” (armed gangs) are born out of the prison system and have managed to extend their power outside the bars and even beyond Venezuelan borders. They are the authority in prisons that have become the territory of fruitful businesses sustained by crimes ranging from drug trafficking to extortion. The most powerful of the groups is “El Tren de Aragua“, led by pran (an acronym for “Prisoner-Repressed Natural Born Murderer”) Héctor Guerrero Flores, also known as El Niño Guerrero, confined in the Tocorón prison, Aragua state.  They are bloodthirsty criminals with so much power that they have entered into a dispute with the Colombian guerrillas over border territory as the crisis caused them to migrate in search of other, less depressed destinations.  Thus, cities bordering Venezuela suffer the onslaught of this criminal group, which is connected to networks that traffic people and extort merchants.  Crimes attributed to its members have been reported in Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, and Colombia.

There are as many "trenes" as there are prisons in Venezuela. Most are named according to the region where they operate. The main protector of the "pranes" is the former Minister of Prisons, Iris Varela, who has provided them with unusual privileges in exchange for their services, which has allowed her to boast of having an army of prisoners for whom she once requested 30,000 rifles from the Minister of Defense, Vladimir Padrino López. In violation of the law, she has executed mass releases of more than 500 detainees in recent years. At least 300 prisoners have been incorporated into the Bolivarian National Police.

Pranes 02

The Guerrilla

Colombian intelligence reports estimate the presence of dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, and the National Liberation Army, ELN, in Venezuela at 1,500 subjects.  According to experts, the Colombian guerrilla is undoubtedly the most powerful non-state armed group in the country.  Led by the ELN, strengthened and converted in recent years into a binational army, it has sophisticated equipment and weaponry that, taking advantage of the demobilization of the FARC and supported by the alliance with Maduro, has spread throughout almost all of Venezuela.  Then, in terms of strength, there is the FARC dissidence led by Miguel Botache Santillana, also known as Gentil Duarte, who commands El Arauca, with the route through Apure and Táchira; he also has presence in the state of Amazonas.  Gentil Duarte rebelled against the Second Marquetalia led by Luciano Marín Arango, a.k.a. Iván Márquez, and Seuxis Hernández, a.k.a. Jesús Santrich, which led to a confrontation involving the Venezuelan Armed Forces, which were surprised and defeated between March and May 2021.  In the midst of this process, Santrich was murdered on May 17 on the Venezuelan side of the Serranía de Perijá, although it is not yet known whether he was killed by Gentil Duarte or by a commando sent from Colombia.  The third guerrilla group is the Second Marquetalia, remnants of a FARC that established solid links with the Chavismo that has always protected it.

Documents from Gentil Duarte’s computer published in mid August 2021 by the Colombian magazine Semana, reminded of the pacts that since 1999 Chávez managed through Rodríguez Chacín with the guerrilla.  As stated in the magazine article, Gentil Duarte proposes to Maduro certain conditions for the stay and transit through the border states of Zulia, Táchira, Apure, Bolívar, and Amazonas.  The request can be understood as a gesture of good will to coexist which has its price: “5,000 rifles, 500 machine guns, 50 mortars, anti-tank systems, night systems, and small arms”.  Gentil Duarte points to the same enemies that Maduro describes as enemies: Colombia and the United States, and promises to fight against them.

Drug Trafficking

A fifth non-state armed group was included in the Insight Crime survey.  These are drug traffickers with a presence in Venezuela who, under the Chavismo, have become stronger and associated with Colombian drug gangs: La Guajira and Paraguaná cartels.  The report states that in the last two decades there has been an increasing participation of Venezuelan criminal structures in the business.  In the operation, local entities are providing services to Colombian drug dealers, but are also buying and selling cocaine shipments, and arranging transport beyond the Venezuelan coast.  It should be noted that the study did not include the Cartel de Los Soles because this criminal organization “operates directly within the State”, with a complex structure of many networks with leading participation of members of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces, FANB, active and retired at different levels, and civilian officials of many government institutions that provide logistics, transportation, security and support for distribution to the drug cartels.  Investigators have identified the Cartel de Los Soles as the most powerful drug trafficking network in Venezuela.

Maduro ha apoyado claramente la guerrilla colombiana facilitando sus actividades delictivas.

PHOTO: Maduro has clearly supported the Colombian guerrillas by facilitating their criminal activities. Source: DW (

License To Kill

Regime officials protect, facilitate activities, and even act in partnership in illicit businesses with non-state armed groups, a unique situation in Latin America where governments prosecute criminals.

The Chavismo’s leaders are the ones pulling the strings of the criminal organization that, by imposing fear, intimidates, extorts, threatens or assaults the population with a fundamental objective: to prevent any hint of protests against Maduro in order to preserve his power, which comes with a lot of money.  No one should doubt that the hierarchy of the regime manages huge incomes while the country is impoverished.

The five armed groups in the above classification have the circumstantial or permanent complicity of members of the national and regional power elite.  It is a publicized relationship, a synergy in which representatives of the different powers merge in a society that places institutions at the service of crime. In this reality, the people are defenseless given the absence of the rule of law.  The criminal who does not hide his privileges is rewarded.

Nicolás Maduro, his wife Cilia Flores, and Nicolás Maduro Guerra, his son, lead the baton to certify the criminal corporations.  The line continues with Diosdado Cabello, vice president of the ruling PSUV party; Tareck El Aissami, sectoral vice president of Economy; Jorge Rodríguez, president of the National Assembly; Delcy Rodríguez, vice president of the Executive Branch; and Vladimir Padrino López, minister of Defense, passing through dozens of characters known for their undeniable relationship with powerful criminal groups.  Iris Varela, former Minister of Prisons, stands out because of her violence, she stated in 2019: “If they threaten us with 5 thousand marines, we have 45 thousand prisoners”.  Varela has even organized criminal attacks against opposition mobilizations.  Antonio “El Potro” Álvarez behaves as a kind of ambassador to the prison gangs, from where his mediation in kidnapping cases has been reported.  Carmen Meléndez, representative of the ruling party for the Caracas mayoralty and member of the presidential clan, and Freddy Bernal, virtual governor of Táchira by acclamation of the guerrillas and ally of Diosdado Cabello, join the court of regional leaders and other officials who protect criminals, no matter how bloodthirsty they may be.

Security reports confirm that Venezuela is today an area occupied by non-state armed groups that operate as criminal organizations and in many cases have come to exercise the functions of government.

It is necessary to highlight the geopolitical effect of the actions of non-state armed groups in the Venezuelan territory.  Experts consider that in addition to States, other actors such as irregular groups or terrorists are capable of generating Gray Zones within other States, – Daesh in 2014, when the Islamic State group launched offensives against armies in Iraq and Syria -, or Hezbollah against Israel.

Without trying to hide it, Maduro has propped up the non-state armed groups and encouraged their criminal activities with the belief that they could also operate as his defense system in the face of an international backlash.


A piece of news caused astonishment on October 29, 2020: Silvia Margarita Sandoval Armas, 72, and her brother Rafael David, 73, were found dead of starvation in their apartment located in Puente Hierro, Caracas.  Dying of hunger was not a headline that fit in the imagination of Venezuelans, but the economic crisis caused by Chavismo has forced us to place names in an unthinkable record for a country that until less than 20 years ago was overflowing with wealth.  The deceased elderly lived alone, dependent on food supplied by neighbors as the $1.61 pension vanished in inflation.  She was the one who faded first.  She fell to the floor in the kitchen without her brother having the strength to pick her up.  Rafael died in his room 12 hours later, according to forensic calculations.

Hunger also strikes children.  Researchers of Proyecto Encovi, a National Survey of Living Conditions, recorded in 2020 that 30% (639 thousand) of children under 5 years of age had chronic malnutrition (by height or stature) and 21% (447 thousand) global malnutrition (by weight/age indicator).  These nutritional levels are among the poorest countries in the world.

What remains of Venezuela is mortgaged ruins.  The question is: How did such a prosperous country collapse like this?  Nicolás Maduro has led the country to agony and has been the executor of turning a central federal state with a democratic government into a failed state where the illegal is above the legal.  This deformation is far from casual.  It is a regime voracious of the necessary financing to maintain itself in power, where its hierarchy participates in the distribution of businesses, which, if obscure, the better.  Said hierarchy offered the country to criminal groups and countries interested in opposing the United States.

Maduro auctioned Venezuela to criminality and Miraflores is maintained with illicit activities. The dynamics fit what former governor and former minister Carlos Tablante has defined as a rogue state.  “A single party, a single thought, the absence of the powers, the systematic replacement of the legal and constitutional order by an arbitrary order imposed by the autocrats, in an environment of impunity for crimes.”

Widespread Poverty

Hunger also strikes children.  Researchers of Proyecto Encovi, a National Survey of Living Conditions, recorded in 2020 that 30% (639 thousand) of children under 5 years of age had chronic malnutrition (by height or stature) and 21% (447 thousand) global malnutrition (by weight/age indicator).  These nutritional levels are among the poorest countries in the world.

What remains of Venezuela is mortgaged ruins.  The question is: How did such a prosperous country collapse like this?  Nicolás Maduro has led the country to agony and has been the executor of turning a central federal state with a democratic government into a failed state where the illegal is above the legal.  This deformation is far from casual.  It is a regime voracious of the necessary financing to maintain itself in power, where its hierarchy participates in the distribution of businesses, which, if obscure, the better.  Said hierarchy offered the country to criminal groups and countries interested in opposing the United States.

Maduro auctioned Venezuela to criminality and Miraflores is maintained with illicit activities. The dynamics fit what former governor and former minister Carlos Tablante has defined as a rogue state.  “A single party, a single thought, the absence of the powers, the systematic replacement of the legal and constitutional order by an arbitrary order imposed by the autocrats, in an environment of impunity for crimes.”

Lack of Public Services

The deterioration in the quality of life suffered by citizens is undeniable. Three-quarters of the country has a deficit of public services.  In some states, said deficit is almost total, such as Delta Amacuro, where it is 99.9%.

A study by the Observatorio Venezolano de Servicios Públicos showed that 75% of households do not receive water on a regular basis. Today, half of the water produced 22 years ago is distributed. Infrastructure of leading quality was abandoned and has never been maintained in 20 years, nor has its technology been renewed.  Technical personnel were replaced by officials selected for their obedience to the regime with zero training.

One of the alternatives devised by the Maduro administration ended in another act of corruption, this time with the Mexican company Libre Abordo, S.A., from which 552 tanker trucks were bought and paid for at an overprice of US$256 million, according to the NGO Monitor Ciudad.

The tanker business has also been directed to favor the financing of the colectivos, the non-state armed groups, as denounced the Jesuit priest, parish priest of La Vega, Alfredo Infante.  The Archbishop of San Cristóbal, Táchira state, Monsignor Mario Moronta, denounced something similar for the benefit of the Iranians.

In Darkness

The regime has been creative in inventing versions that try to justify the crisis in the electricity sector.  They have blamed a variety of fauna, from vultures to iguanas, although their favorite version has been to point to an international conspiracy.  The country (Venezuela) that was able to export hydroelectric and thermoelectric energy to Colombia, Brazil, and Trinidad is just a distant memory nowadays.

The long list of reasons for the decline of the country’s electricity system is indisputably headed by corruption, and from there, problems have accumulated that have sunk the sector, which lacks trained personnel.

As to corruption in the electric sector, the company Derwick Associates was included in the record of shame by adding the neologism “bolichico”, so named because of the young age of its owners, Alejandro Betancourt, 29, and Pedro Trebbau, 26, who, with no experience in the field, achieved in only 14 months, between 2009 and 2011, profits from contracts with public companies for at least 2.5 billion dollars.  The contracts were awarded without competitive bidding.

The result?  By July 2021, more than half of the country had electricity service failures every week.  The situation is dramatically worse in less populated areas.

Education in Collapse

Venezuelan education faces a complex humanitarian emergency. Educational coverage has stagnated and the potential demand for education has been reduced. Attendance is irregular and almost 1.5 million adolescents are at risk of definitive exclusion from the system. Young people and children are absent for reasons that reflect the crisis: water problems, power outages, food shortages, transportation failures, and lack of teachers. Between 2015 and 2020 alone, more than 100,000 teachers left the education system.

The lack of infrastructure maintenance and the lack of equipment and supplies in the schools has reduced the number of operational schools in the country.

This Tragedy Also Applies to Universities.

Beginning the afternoon of June 17, 2020, the portion of a masterpiece, so declared in December 2000 when the Universidad Central de Venezuela was designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco, fell apart. The ceiling of one of its corridors, located in front of the Faculty of Humanities, collapsed.

It is in the collective memory that Venezuela was a leader in the development of universities in South America.

Five autonomous universities resist in agony while they are daily plundered by crime, penetrated by security agencies, and suffocated without resources.  Rebel students and professors are assaulted, threatened, and detained, even by military agencies.  The interference of the Judiciary has prevented the autonomous renewal of the authorities.  Any attempt of independence is reacted by the obvious decision of a dictatorship that despises knowledge.  The crisis has also dried up private universities.

Academic freedom has been eroded because the objective is the political control of educational and research programs.  Therefore, the regime has applied the pincer to asphyxiate universities by cutting their budgets.  Under these conditions, it is impossible to sustain the infrastructure, or to buy equipment, much less to train the teaching staff.

Universities are only approved for between 1% and 30% of the amount requested, and of this amount, 90% goes to salaries.  All academic work has been stopped.

The effect has a dramatic rebound.  A Report of the Academic Freedom Monitoring Project of Scholars at Risk refers how “Venezuela’s research output, published articles and its place in international university rankings has declined significantly”.

The attack against the universities has borne fruit for the dictatorship that at all costs wants to prevent freedom of thought and the minimum exchange of ideas.

Even so, universities are resisting, although there is no indication that the situation will improve.

Grace Shots

The murder of inspector, flight expert, parachutist, and combat diver Oscar Pérez was almost broadcast live. His execution is part of the file that Prosecutor Karim Khan has pushed to its investigation phase at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. The extensive dossier gathers the crimes of a bloodthirsty regime with documentation of more than 2,000 serious human rights violations planned and executed by the regime's elite and the heads of security agencies.

Oscar Pérez had an impeccable record during the 15 years he was part of the Scientific, Penal, and Criminal Investigation Service Corps, CICPC.  Once he spoke out in June 2017 against Maduro, the regime sentenced him. These were days of anti-government protests. Seven months after having challenged the dictatorship, on January 15, 2018, the house where he was in hiding in El Junquito, in the outskirts of Caracas, was attacked in an action by seven civilian and military special security forces that went so far as to use an RPG-7 missile, even though Pérez, along with six members of his group, had announced their surrender.  Prosecutor Karim Khan has in his hands the evidence that Oscar Pérez and his companions were executed with shots to the head and that there was never a confrontation.

International organizations such as the Organization of American States and the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission for Venezuela concluded that at least 18,093 extrajudicial executions have been carried out by State security forces and “colectivos”.  It is about the systematic use of violence since 2014 in order to repress the political opposition and terrorize the population.  45 government officials are said to be directly involved.

Systematic murders, torture and sexual violence were allegedly committed on the basis of orders issued from the top: Nicolás Maduro and members of the Executive, and the heads of security agencies.

Venezuelans Flee

César did not know Irma when he decided to pick up her collapsed body and cross it over his right shoulder as he crossed the Rio Grande between the U.S.-Mexico border.  Trained for sports, especially baseball, he was able to wade through the cold waters without much trouble.  The Texas Border Patrol was waiting for them and nearly 100 Venezuelans who, on May 26, 2021, had risked entering the U.S. irregularly to flee the dictatorship and economic crisis in Venezuela.  César Padrón, 24, and Mrs. Irma, 72, were both born in Maracaibo. The image taken by Reuters photographer Go Nakamura went around the world.

The alarm bells rang for the Maduro regime immediately and the plan to discredit the scene was activated at all levels.

A few hours later, pro-government accounts referred to César’s alleged frequent trips to Miami and described the news as a media operation to overstate the humanitarian crisis focused on propaganda to change the regime.  The narrative of the official sources tried to cast doubt on the veracity of the image: “It is false, there are many crocodiles there; these crossings are made at night; the border patrol treated them too well; what a coincidence that the journalists were exactly at the time and place of the irregular entries”.  Simultaneously, they attributed the video to a plan by Reuters, Fox, and other U.S. media and Venezuelan news sites.  “People cross the river and come out dry”, commented mockingly Diosdado Cabello, second in command of the ruling PSUV party.

An Undeniable Reality

Grey Zones find their space in countries with little freedom and where those in power lack scruples and flout the law.  Under these conditions, the Internet is used as a powerful tool to influence the opinion of any individual or group at high speed.  Social media become tools or combat weapons.  In the new and gigantic world of information 2.0 and 3.0, that same news is more susceptible to manipulation by whoever has more resources to do so.

Manipulated messages have a negative impact on the truth.  However, there are facts that the regime finds impossible to deny.  For example, the number of Venezuelan immigrants and refugees exceeds the total population of 100 countries or territories, including Costa Rica, Ireland, and Norway.  More than 6 million Venezuelans have fled the country; this is the figure recorded by the United Nations in September 2021.  Next year’s scenario seems even worse.  Calculations by the Organization of American States Working Group to address the migrant and refugee crisis in Venezuela headed by David Smolansky sadly forecast that by the beginning of 2022 the exodus would be 7 million people, the largest in the world, surpassing Syria.

The so-called trekkers have walked up to four thousand kilometers across the continent.  Their testimonies are soul-breaking.  There have been Venezuelans who have even died in the attempt to flee.  An estimated 100+ deaths were recorded in 2019, in a statistic that is difficult to document.

Maduro is annoyed when it is reported that Venezuelans are fleeing.  To be precise, what irritates him is that the international community is aware of this reality.  Maduro welcomes the critical mass leaving the country, but wishes it could happen quietly.

Stalking Colombia

The opacity of the Venezuelan border with Colombia poses a security threat to the entire region.  As has been demonstrated, nothing has been accidental.  Nicolás Maduro’s attacks against President Iván Duque generate a continuous attrition that almost all experts include as part of a plan.

The opacity of the Venezuelan border with Colombia poses a security threat to the entire region.  As has been demonstrated, nothing has been accidental.  Nicolás Maduro’s attacks against President Iván Duque generate a continuous attrition that almost all experts include as part of a plan.

United for Evil

Logic is imposing that we should not cling to categorizations for the diagnosis of the scenario in the region.  Taking off their academic hats, the community that discusses security issues agrees that what is relevant for Latin America is that the region is in danger and that, in this regard, it seems that the decisions required by the circumstances are not being taken.  “In the case of Venezuela, there is enough evidence to give a plausible explanation of what is happening because the Gray Zone works precisely with the logic of ambiguity”, says Josep Baqués.

“For there to be a Gray Zone there must be a foreign power using Venezuela for its own purposes.  The objective is then to guide this State towards a position in world geopolitics”, explains Baqués.

Russia takes advantage of operating in a Gray Zone

And he clarifies something substantial: “China, Russia, and Iran have similar, but not identical, agendas.” “In addition -says Robert Evan Ellis of the Wilson Center’s U.S. Army War College-, these countries have succeeded in wrenching Venezuela out of the orbits of the world of liberal democracies and pitting it against Washington to the point of turning this nation into the new Cuba.”

For experts, it is essential to determine who is behind the non-state armed groups because they will always seek to have a military deterrent capability, in this case against the United States.  Efforts have been directed at documenting who, in operations or intelligence, the regime is training or indoctrinating or monitoring to act violently when called upon.  “The Gray Zone would imply that there have to be people from these countries – they don’t have to be thousands, they can be dozens, hundreds – who are in the Venezuelan territory training Chavista armed groups”, explains Baqués.  In this regard, there is evidence that the Colombian guerrillas do it and that the Russians and Iranians do it as well, in specific areas.

In the case of the Russians, there are public signs.  In March 2019, Vladimir Putin sent two planes with about 100 uniformed personnel “to fulfill military-technical contacts”.  This military personnel was placed in strategic locations such as anti-missile systems.  And to whom did they report? To General Vasily Tonkoshkurov, one of the top generals in the Russian army who can order a fight, a war.  Putin knew that if a conflict broke out, his Russian “technicians” could not be attacked because it would mean a direct confrontation.  On Putin’s part, it was a strong and smart move.  A clear example of how Russia takes advantage of operating in a Gray Zone.

Two intelligence sources agree that by mid-2021 the presence of at least 180 Russian troops in Venezuela was confirmed.  60 of them in Caracas, others distributed throughout the country.  They are specialists in different fields: communications, cyber defense, aerospace defense and strategic intelligence.  Those identified as support groups were divided and sent to key sectors: one to El Sombrero, Guárico state, to guard, protect and control the satellite ground station; another to Maracay, with headquarters at the Aragua Base controlling the western aerospace defense axis; a third team was located in Urbanización Manzanares, Baruta, Miranda state, near Maduro, and a fourth one at the Círculo Militar where the general who controls and directs the team and distributes circumstantial missions resides.  Two snipers are known to have been sent to Táchira at the time of the Apure events with the FARC dissidence in April 2021.  An expert electronic warfare team has been deployed to border states.

“The Russians are authorized to wear FANB military uniforms, if necessary, offensively or defensively; they carry organic weapons and Verba-type man-portable aerospace defense weapons (Russian anti-aircraft defense system with efficient jamming protection, designed to destroy aircraft, helicopters, UAVs, and cruise missiles on close courses.  These weapons can also fire at targets with low levels of thermal radiation and reduced missile consumption when destroying multiple targets, states its offer).  The equipment is linked to two Russian satellites covering Venezuela and the Caribbean.  They have remote communications with Russia and allied countries”, says a military intelligence source.

Special groups have been mobilized when their strategists deemed it necessary, as occurred between March and May 2021 when they took charge of the electronic system on the Colombian border because the FANB was defeated by FARC dissidents.

Since Venezuela became the main buyer of Russian arms in the Western Hemisphere, the alliance was decreed.  Vladimir Putin’s decisive support for Maduro’s permanence in power is undeniable.  Both found the perfect code that unites them: corruption.  Analysts Víctor Mijares from Universidad de Los Andes, and Alejandro Cardozo Uzcátegui from Universidad Sergio Arboleda in Colombia, point to the need to focus on corruption as a cohesion factor for Russian alliances in Latin America and specifically in Venezuela “where its authoritarianism comes with the unpredictability of its laws, which implies an authoritarian governance based on the degradation of the institutional and social order.”

The Chinese Holistic Vision

China bets on gray strategies since many years ago

With discreet efforts, the Chinese reign in Latin America.  “If the Gray Zone is a useful mechanism for forcing the status quo – but in a sufficiently subtle way so as not to give rise to immediate military escalation – one of the states that seems most predisposed to it is China.  In fact, reading documents developed by the Chinese military shows that their perception of international conflicts tends to be assimilated to the holistic vision of the Gray Zone, although they use other concepts”, says Josep Baqués.

China has been betting on gray strategies for years without alarm bells ringing among its Western competitors, say experts.  “That would be concomitant with an expansive project, supported by its economic growth.  No open war is seriously expected in Beijing due to, among other factors, the (current) superiority of the United States, but this does not preclude the pursuit of these objectives (and this expansion) in a more subtle and gradual way.  In other words, how the Gray Zone is most useful and effective”, says Baqués.

Admiral Craig S. Faller, who will retire at the end of 2021 as the head of Southern Command, does believe there are reasons to become active in the face of worrisome risks.  “Today I feel a heightened sense of urgency about the activities of the People’s Republic of China in the Western Hemisphere.  Its influence in the region continues to grow in all areas.  It has upped its game a thousand-fold, offering extensive opportunities for military education, engineering scholarships, cyber, and annual security cooperation packages with no strings attached that in many cases far exceed the value to similar programs offered by Western partners, including the United States.”

Admiral Faller’s warning issued in August 2021 coincides with what, thousands of miles away, analysts Mijares and Cardozo defined from Colombia as the versatile amalgam (financing route practices that break the barriers of sanctions and create illegal investment opportunities); in short, corruption, between Russia and Venezuela.  Faller, on the other hand, warns about this evil caused by China.  “Beijing is more comfortable dealing with authoritarian regimes like their own.  The behavior of the People’s Republic of China in Venezuela is an example of this.  It is no coincidence that Chinese companies provide gifts and bribes to grease the wheels while doing business with Maduro’s regime, which, like theirs, systematically abuses human rights.”

For Evan Ellis the danger already came.  “What the United States has to do is to coordinate a better job because without a doubt our institutions of democracy, the rule of law, are already in danger.  There are also human rights concerns.  China seeks its own economic benefit, but also to alter the institutions and relations of the political world.  It does not care about closing ties with populist regimes, right or left, it does not care about their ideology.  This places the region’s orientation to be less democratic because it supports countries that are hostile to the United States, countries that violate human rights.  There is also less collaboration on issues vital to the U.S. such as drugs, organized crime or terrorism.”

However, expert Josep Baqués, establishes nuances that differentiate China’s strength in the Gray Zone from Russian participation:  “The Chinese move more carefully trying to preserve an institutional image.” Analyst Victor Mijares agrees: “China would not do things like what Russia does, flying planes with nuclear bombing capacity over Colombian airspace, or flying over the Colombian Guajira with an intelligence plane.  That is something that China would never do.”

The present diagnosis shows that Russia’s objectives with Venezuela are aimed at a political-military relationship, while those of China stand out for their economic-political character, on which cyber espionage should be carefully considered.  Certainly, in the financial balance, there is no comparison between the structure of Venezuela with Russia and the one linking China with Venezuela, whose dimension is consistently superior.


The scene stirred interest. In the San Jacinto square known as "Plaza El Venezolano", a large tent had been set up where careless Caraqueños were invited or seduced to learn more about Islam. Sophisticated bugles and the distribution of various materials attracted the curiosity of Caracas residents who tried to guess the bodies under black burkas. The event was presented a block and a half away from the house of Simon Bolívar (The Hero of South American Independence) and was recorded on the Facebook account of the Iranian Latin American Cultural Exchange Center on August 18, 2021, referring to the eighth day of Huseinia.

Widespread outrage led to the content having to be deleted from social media.  And not because in Venezuela Islam is discriminated against, after all, in the Catholic referent of the majority of the country, it has been shared with all kinds of beliefs summarized in religious syncretism.  What was triggered was the fear that, behind that tent, there was indoctrination of those related to terrorism, the ones convenient for Maduro.

Iran is one of the usual suspects.  Analysts highlight the intensity of Latin American ties with Iran, particularly in Venezuela.  “Tehran was more than happy to reach an agreement with Venezuela to exchange gasoline and technical expertise to repair oil infrastructure in exchange for around $500 million of Venezuelan gold.”  Inside Arabia’s Stasa Salacanin highlights how officials in Washington have placed more attention on Tehran’s close military ties of cooperation, even if the missile threat continues to remain a bluster.  But there are Iranian activities in Venezuela that are not a bluster.

Monsignor Mario Moronta has been warning about the advance of Iranian ideologization in the Venezuelan territory.

According to intelligence sources, the Iranians have two headquarters in Venezuela, understanding headquarters as the brain, their base of operations, their think tank with a tent facade.  “One of the headquarters is in Puerto Ordaz and the other one in Margarita, key places for the transfer of legal or illegal merchandise.  Additionally, there are some areas where they are setting up their small cities, for example, in the outskirts of Valencia, in Guataparo, northwest of the capital of Carabobo, where a city, with its own mosque, is being built for the Iranians.  The site is a little more than half an hour’s drive from the Libertador airbase located between Palo Negro and Maracay, Aragua state.  Some 20 Iranians were based there in 2018 until it transpired that the head of Iran’s Quds Force, Quasem Soleimani, had been killed in a U.S. attack on January 3, 2020.  The Iranians disappeared… only to return.  At the base, they repair their Hercules aircraft engines and other parts”, says an intelligence source.

The air force is the military branch most penetrated by the Iranians.  They have had an official liaison who has reached the highest positions in the High Command of the FANB, in addition to having been Defense Attaché in Iran.  His name is Pedro Juliac, a close friend of Maduro, who unusually allowed him to continue as second in command of the Strategic Operational Command, after heading the Air Force.  His retirement was delayed and he was later awarded the rank of commanding general.  Juliac manages covert missions in Iran; his deputy, Major General Dario Perez, was appointed Defense Attaché in Iran.  Juliac and Pérez have been tying ties for years on Margarita Island with the religious hierarchy and the heads of Iranian businesses on the island, all friends of Tareck El Aissami, who has not given his personal security to the Iranians for free.

Other institutions have made public demonstrations of affection for Iran.  It happened in June 2020 when the Iranian flag was hoisted next to the Venezuelan flag at the headquarters of the Scientific, Penal, and Criminal Investigation Service Corps, CICPC, in downtown Caracas.  The Iranian flag remained hoisted for a whole week.

Military sources claim that in formal business the Iranians have turned out to be a fiasco.  The history of the drones and Proyecto Arpía in 2006 is a case in point.  In spite of this, Chávez did not give up on the mission to strengthen ties and Maduro has widened the range.  In terms of business, since 2013 he commissioned several juicy deals to the now detained in Cape Verde, Alex Saab.  Saab’s activities were closely followed by El Aissami.  Most of the deals that have materialized are more like pacts between criminal gangs than trade agreements between two States.

The reactivation of the relationship with Iran has diversified since 2018.  The Iranians are in charge of training personnel in electronics and hackers.  They also repair airplanes, several of them belonging to Conviasa, through the company Mahan Air.  An intelligence source recalls an occasion when they offered to repair some engines and other parts of the F16 at a lower price, taking advantage of the circumstance of Venezuela’s lack of funds and that many military agreements had ceased leaving the aircraft without maintenance.  The Iranians -without authorization- copied the parts that were delivered to them for repair.  They asserted their reputation as experts in copying complex equipment after disassembling it, applying reverse engineering.  It was a decision that neither the Russians nor the Chinese liked because this practice, which meant a violation of an industrial confidentiality agreement of secret contracts for war machines, could also affect them with their equipment.  The situation was recorded and the Comptroller General of the FANB opened a file against Vladimir Padrino López.

The Iranians are also experts in spying and call tracking, as are the Chinese and Russians.  They make relationship diagrams of who people communicate with.  Maduro and the Iranians used an innocent audience on November 29, 2020, when Maduro launched a telephone number for people to send him messages while on national television.  The invitation was to test equipment that could access all the personal data of anyone who contacted him.  On that occasion, the Iranians worked with Cuban technicians.

For tracking communications and computer programmers, the Iranians have been located in several areas, although they also operate with briefcase software.  Many of the Iranians have been settled in houses that were either stolen or expropriated by the regime to the east and on the outskirts of Caracas.  But really Margarita is their kingdom.  From there, there are many things they do without control.

“To move the gold that came out of the mines in Bolívar state with the money paid to them by Venezuela, the Iranians first used small boats that left Puerto Ordaz and sailed down the Orinoco, continuing on to Trinidad without arousing suspicion.  Flights began to fly in and out.  Time gave them confidence.  They have brought in weapons on airplanes, they no longer deal with complications.  They do it directly to Caracas from where they distribute them; they give priority to the capital city being ready.  There are also civilian airplanes that land at the Palo Negro base or transfer at Maiquetía and from there they move on to Maracay trying not to make any noise”, says an informant.

The Iranian ambassador in Venezuela, Hojjatollah Soltani, deals with business ventures; he is the civilian face that presents and represents them.  They insist on selling drones and small submarines.  While the presence of Iranians in Margarita is more than evident, no consistent evidence has been found documenting that members of Hezbollah are there.  However, the former head of the Directorate of Military Counter Intelligence, DGCIM, General Hugo “el Pollo” Carvajal, insists that he can prove this.

The Iranians are surprising.  Sources from the Bolivarian Intelligence Service, Sebin, have reported Iranian infiltrators.

In Táchira they have given talks with clear orientations for a war of resistance, in an evident process of ideologization.  This has been strongly denounced by the Archbishop of San Cristóbal, Monsignor Mario Moronta, who, in 2020, warned in a letter presented to the Episcopal Conference that the presence of Iranians in the Venezuelan territory goes beyond the interest on mineral resources.  “Certainly, there is an interest in them, but they are achieving their real objective: to establish a strategic geopolitical base and thus achieve a space of penetration in a privileged place in Latin America.  And they did it without much effort and without any reaction against them”, wrote Monsignor Moronta, warning about the actions being carried out by the Iranians.  In this regard, this matches with testimonies of inhabitants of the state bordering Colombia of how the Iranians have been fulfilling government functions in the distribution of food and the distribution of water in tanker trucks in the face of the scarcity of the service.  And even though he defends freedom of worship, he thinks it is dangerous that they act camouflaged in religion.

Monsignor Moronta is emphatic in insisting on the danger that Iran has achieved in Venezuela a beachhead in Latin America without political sectors or the religious hierarchy paying attention to it.

The Expansion

The Cubans operate as Maduro’s brains, says a source close to the Miraflores environment.  Whether Maduro negotiates with the Chinese, Russians, or Iranians, Cubans will always be aware of it.  When the Chinese set up the 911 alert platform with Cantv and Movilnet, when they installed the servers for the integration of the information system of the Administrative Service for Identification, Migration and Foreigners, Saime, or when they fed the software and hardware technology for the Carnet de la Patria system, Cuba was watching”.  The same goes for Russian espionage or what the Iranians are doing.  Cubans behave like the holders of the master key.  In return, they are fierce at taking care of those who feed them.

It is false that Maduro has handed over his personal security to the Iranians.  The privilege of the secrets of the presidential family is treasured by the Cubans, who are aware that they pull the strings of power in Venezuela, without the need to be a fearsome power.

Maduro is reassured by having them around.  He does not trust anyone else, not even his wife Cilia Flores.  With his son, he has made efforts so that the same thing does not happen to him as happened to Chávez’ son, who was banished for bad behavior.  His name is Nicolás Maduro Guerra, Nicolasito, and his father took care of him at a time when he seemed to be going down a cliff and sent him to China for a few long months in 2015.

After eight years in Miraflores, Maduro has learned a lot.  And his closeness with China, Russia, and Iran has paid off.

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has encouraged optimism among the enemies of the Americans.  “Maduro feels that he already has an advanced path and does not intend to let up.  The project, along with its allies, needs to expand and is looking at Colombia.  Venezuela has become an unexpected node for many people, a territory that serves as a spearhead for any adventure anywhere in this hemisphere, not only in the Caribbean and the Atlantic area, but also in the Pacific area, for which Colombia and Panama are essential objectives”, says Carlos Blanco, former minister for state reform in Venezuela and international consultant on governance and decentralization.

The report of a former head of political intelligence in Venezuela delivered in mid-2019 to international security agencies outlines a conspiracy against the Colombian institutionality.  “Cuban intelligence has worked at the service of Russia and China in Colombia, thus infiltrating key agencies with the effort to mutate, ‘become invisible’ and become entrenched, with the instruction to obtain information on defense systems in the area of C3 (command, control, and cybernetics), reaction time and escalation of air defense, vulnerabilities in their computer system, and the specific disposition of special forces.  HUMINT activities (direct investigation of human sources) are for the infiltration of military and police units, with emphasis on dual nationals with pre-eminence in Colombia.  It should be noted that the figure of the marriage of foreigners (Cubans and ALBA members) with Colombian citizens provides a perfect facade that even allows the entry to job opportunities in the public sector, which allows penetrating the country’s institutionality.  It is important to highlight the support of political groups with a strong social network management operation that allows timely, relevant, and effective control of the masses, generating situations contrary to public order.  The reports are transmitted to Maduro.  Major General Jesús Barrios Quintero (counterintelligence expert) is who informs the Presidency about the Colombian government and right-wing political forces, as well as about the effective communication approach in social media”, reads a document.

“Everything indicates that the axis of destabilization of the entire region is in Venezuela,” says security expert Guillem Colom.

There is evidence to support this claim.  Recent documents have identified at least 200 members of different hierarchies attached to Venezuela’s Military Intelligence and Special Actions Force who have entered Colombia obtaining false identification and have assimilated into different roles waiting for the opportunity to activate protests or to receive new instructions.

Is the fact that an ally like Colombia is surrounded by hostile forces while Russia, China, and Iran use Venezuela as a beachhead in Latin America enough to make the issue urgent in the United States?  It does not seem to be the case.  “In Washington, there is a vision that tends to minimize Latin America and they are right about one thing, from an economic point of view it barely represents 5% of the planet’s GDP”, says Professor Victor Mijares from Colombia, so economically they are focused on what is happening in East Asia, Japan, China, Korea, giants, industrial giants, or Europe.  And from a security standpoint, the threats posed by Latin America are not on the scale of those posed by rivalry with nuclear powers or Islamic terrorism.  In addition, certain taboos of having intervened too much in Latin America lead to U.S. disinterest and neglect.  Their concern has been focused on migration, and for everything else, they have selective sanctions”.

To the question “What makes Venezuela a problem for the United States?”, Mijares answers: “It is not the democratic degradation, it is not the collapse of the oil industry, it is not the harboring of Colombian guerrillas.  The United States is beginning to realize -and it already seems late- that the strategy of Russia and China is to have a presence there, with positions taken, only now there is no possibility or it is much more difficult, to have an intervention in Venezuela.  In addition, Russia and China have provided Venezuela (which is a ruined country) with the best anti-aircraft defense system in the region.  This reality caused Washington to tighten sanctions, seeking a tragedy at a low cost.  But it didn’t work out.”

Humire is emphatic in calling on the United States to take this situation very seriously.  “Right now Russia, China, and Iran are working together at operational and strategic levels and that combination is very evident in Venezuela.  Sometimes people think that China is only interested in the economic part in Venezuela, but I assure you that it is not.  They support Iran in sending ships with weapons to Venezuela.    Some people think that Russia is only interested in the oil part, but I assure you that it is not.  Russia is handling technology and weaponry on the border and so are the Iranians.  They already work as a team and that is how we have to see them, as an alliance, as a network.  They do not only operate in Venezuela.  They do it in Latin America at different levels of penetration with the idea of dominating the region to break the Monroe Doctrine and to delegitimize the United States”.

Baqués anticipates a possibility without precedent in the literature on this subject: “It would be interesting to consider the chaining of Gray Zones.  A Russian and an Iranian Gray Zone could converge with the objective of keeping Venezuela as the enemy of the United States outside the orbit of liberal democracies and the rule of law.  A Venezuelan Gray Zone in Colombia would then be proposed in order to break its loyalty to the United States and seek a regime change and advance in the control of the region”.

The borders between Venezuela and Colombia have been deliberately blurred,” says Alberto Ray, security consultant, executive director of the think tank The Risk Awareness Council (TRAC).  The reason for the Gray Zone is because it is freed from the rigidity of the state, with the institutional structure dissolved.” Ray gives dimension to the Grey Zone on the map: “The axis of the Vichada River is the new axis of criminal expansion of Venezuela where the armed groups connect with the drug business from the Pacific to the Atlantic through Venezuela passing through the Vichada axis, and on the other hand it has a derivation towards Ecuador because the Colombian Amazon borders Ecuador, Peru is very close and there they have the door to the south.  This is the area where the Andes are relatively accessible.  Intense drug trafficking activity is expanding along this corridor.

Maduro allows it, it is impossible with his hierarchy that participation in a business of such dimensions does not mean a partnership agreement.  Maduro provides the political structure and the military element to drug trafficking.

The statistics make the problem even bigger: “Until five years ago, approximately 75% of the drugs were transported through the Colombian Pacific; the amount transported through Venezuela has been growing to such an extent that it is close to half, while the Gray Zone has become a territory of relief for criminals and a source of income that in the Venezuelan space has the possibility of becoming a laundered economy, because there is also mining”, specifies Ray.

This discouraging outlook is getting worse.  However, experts claim to find no echo of their concern in the United States.  The April 2021 Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community, which reflects the position of both the civilian and military intelligence community, identifies China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as the main adversaries of the U.S.  The Latin American region is not mentioned in these terms.

In said report, presented by the Director of Intelligence, Venezuela is mentioned for its relationship with Russia: “In the Western Hemisphere, Russia has expanded its engagement with Venezuela, supported Cuba, and used arms sales and energy agreements to try to expand access to Latin American markets and natural resources”.

The second, brief and final quote on Venezuela in the report reads as follows: “The political and economic crisis in Venezuela will continue, which will maintain the outflow of Venezuelans to the rest of the region…,”.

A territory under criminal law with a fuzzy border is a Gray Zone.
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