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Geopolitics

How Cuban Intelligence Helped Secure Maduro's Grip On Power In Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has managed to cling to power after an allegedly rigged 2018 presidential election. He did so with the help of Cuba, having enjoyed "working relations" with Cuban intelligence for decades.

Picture of Raul Castro and Nicolas Maduro watching Havana May Day parade

Cuban leader Raul Castro and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in 2015

Mauricio Rubio

BOGOTÁ — In the late 1980s, Venezuela's Socialist President Nicolás Maduro was a student in Havana, where Cuban intelligence tried to recruit him to promote revolution in Latin America.

Maduro has been president of Venezuela since 2013, following the death of Hugo Chavez. Since taking office, the authoritarian leader has been accused of crimes against humanity and managed to cling to power after attempts to oust him over an allegedly rigged 2018 election.

New evidence has shown how Maduro's formative years in Cuba have helped him cement his grip on power.


Maduro studied at the Ñico López School, an academy for state officials run by the Cuban Communist Party (ESPCC in Spanish). While this part of Maduro's personal history is carefully concealed, in 2013, the year he became president, the Colombian paper El Diario de Huila published pictures of him supplied by a former Cuban official who knew him.


"An outstanding student" of Fidel Castro

The official, named as Hernando, had by then fled Cuba. He said the school gave Maduro and other Latin American "pupils" of the Cuban revolution an education in "Marxist philosophy, political economy, Latin American history and the Mexican revolution."

Like his late predecessor, former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, Maduro had a Marxist education, though unlike Chávez, he is strictly orthodox, having shown no deviations from Marxism doctrine after receiving practical training as a revolutionary.

He wasn't just the bus driver people are usually led to believe.

He "handles perfectly the language of political preparation for the masses," according to Hernando, who was a senior liaison officer with the FARC, Colombia's disbanded communist rebels, for several years.

Apparently speaking at an unspecified location in 2013, he described Maduro as "an outstanding pupil of Fidel Castro. He's a professional revolutionary," and as a man trained and backed by the Cuban state, enjoying considerable respect among the extreme Left in Latin America.

Maduro's image as a fighter in touch with ordinary folk is longstanding, though he wasn't just the bus driver people are usually led to believe. He was a combative trade unionist who took part in stoning and burning buses. Maduro, Hernando said, was a guerrilla type sent into town "to set the streets alight and fight the police."

Photo of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Cane and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel walks with his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro in Havana

Presidency Of Venezuela/Xinhua/Zuma

How Maduro has kept power

The Cuban government had little to do with Chávez taking power. When the Venezuelan government launched its Chavista revolution, Maduro was already on its list of Latin American politicians set to receive aid. Unlike his predecessor — a born leader with numerous followers — Maduro is an insurgent experienced in urban warfare and expert in underhand politics.

The contrast between Chávez and Maduro was always stark. While the former was "enthusiastic, extroverted" and an "agitator" of the masses but not trained to lead a revolution, Maduro forged ties not just with the Chavistas or the Left in Venezuela but all subversive elements raised in Cuba. That was the origin of his close ties with the FARC, the ELN, Colombia's other Marxist rebels, and other regional insurgents.

Maduro was acquainted with Cuba's communist leadership when nobody else knew them on the continent. As the Cubans believed he needed to polish his international skills a bit more before running Venezuela, they pressured Chávez to make him foreign minister. Thus, from 2006 to 2013, Maduro occupied the post of Venezuela's Minister of the People's Power for Foreign Affairs.

In contrast with most ministerial positions under Chávez, which were briskly rotational, Maduro stayed put for seven years. He left his post in late 2012, when Chávez, whose health was in sharp decline, determined that in case of incapacity, Maduro should act as president until general elections were held. His death provoked intense debates on the constitutionality of Maduro's presidency.

Maduro was in touch with representatives of all the armed rebel groups that had taken refuge in Cuba.

In addition to knowing about urban guerrilla warfare, Maduro was in touch with representatives of all the armed rebel groups in Latin America that had taken refuge in Cuba. These all received training from the "subversive intelligence unit" of the American Department in Cuba, says Hernando.

He specified that the office was then under the personal direction of the island's ruling brothers, Fidel and Raúl Castro, and "when someone was about to engage in clandestine activity, Cuba was the refuge. That is where they were trained: intelligence, counter-intelligence, subversion through fighting on the streets or up in the mountains."


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