The Venezuelan government has released what it says is more evidence of Western-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido’s ties to notorious Colombian drug lords and paramilitaries.
On Friday, Venezuela’s Communication and Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez revealed a video of what he said was Guaido mingling with members of Los Rastrojos criminal syndicate and paramilitary group during his trip to Colombia in February. The footage shows a smiling Guaido posing with the alleged cartel members, riding alongside them in an SUV towards a helicopter.
Rodriguez claimed that the cartel facilitated Guaido’s trip, including his meetings with Colombian leadership, which openly backs him. A Colombian NGO previously released photos of the opposition leader with the alleged gangsters, and similar pictures were later published in Venezuela. During Friday’s briefing, Rodriguez showed yet another batch of similar photos of Guaido posing with and hugging various casually-dressed men, whom the Venezuelan government identifies as Los Rastrojos members.
Among the men photographed with Guaido is Ivan Posso Pedrozo, aka ‘Nandito,’ the cartel’s logistics and finance officer. He was captured by Venezuela near the Colombian border in September. The government released an interrogation video, in which Pedrozo admitted organizing Guaido’s travel through Colombia.
The gangsters planned to start riots along the border as a distraction, while they smuggled Guaido into Colombia, Rodriguez said. He also claimed that they have taken and retained photos with the opposition leader as an “insurance policy” so the cartel could blackmail the politician if he comes to power in Venezuela.
Guaido denied getting help from the syndicate and said its members were among hundreds of people with whom he posed for selfies while crossing the border. He further dismissed Rodriguez’s allegation as “fake news” being spread by the government to smear him.
The speaker of the opposition-controlled parliament, Guaido was declared ‘interim president’ in January, challenging the incumbent Nicolas Maduro. Guaido’s claim was quickly backed by the US and its allies in Europe and South America, including Venezuela’s neighbors, Colombia and Brazil. Countries like China, Russia, Iran and Turkey continue to recognize Maduro as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.
Guaido and his supporters have made several calls for the army and police to join them in toppling Maduro, but they remained loyal to the government.
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