Merida, March 14, 2018, (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s former interior minister and intelligence czar, Miguel Rodriguez Torres, was arrested by state intelligence officials Tuesday over allegations of “conspiracy” against the constitution.
The retired army major-general was asked to cut short his speech at a conference at the Hotel Presidente in central Caracas before being escorted by eight members of the National Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) to the general headquarters of military counterintelligence. As shown in video footage of the arrest, Rodriguez Torres put up no resistance.
“I have just been informed that I must leave urgently, I will explain afterwards, I thank you for your presence,” he said upon finishing his address.
Rodriguez Torres previously served in both President Chavez and Maduro’s cabinets, but has recently been increasingly critical of the current administration, claiming that Maduro is carrying out “an attack against the legacy of Chavez”.
“Fear is what grips Venezuelans in these conditions, an uncertainty that grabs you when you stand in front of the fridge and you don’t have cash nor food. Currently everything is difficult,” he claimed at the forum.
Following his detention, the government issued a statement explaining the measure.
According to Venezuela’s Communications Ministry, Rodriguez Torres was “summoned by the justice [system] for actions again the public peace and tranquillity, as well as for plots and conspiracy which had as their malicious intention to threaten the monolithic unity of our National Bolivarian Armed Forces.”
The government went on to accuse the ex-minister of involvement in “criminal actions which were planned by him and his accomplices, including armed and conspiratorial activities against our constitution… and the democratic order.” No formal charges have, however, been made public.
Rodriguez Torres served in the army alongside Hugo Chavez, participated in the latter’s 1992 civic-military uprising, spent time with him in Yare prison, and was even a coffin-bearer at the late president’s funeral.
He became chief of the intelligence services (DISIP, later SEBIN) following the 2002 thwarted coup against Chavez, making a name for himself as the “man of the conspiracies” due to the numerous plots against the former president’s life which he allegedly dismantled.
Rodriguez Torres was later named interior minister in May 2013 by President Maduro who promoted him to major-general. He served during the 2014 violent anti-government street protests which left 43 dead, but was replaced in October 2014 following allegations of human rights violations by police forces against the organised communities in Quinta Crespo, Caracas.
Following his destitution, Rodriguez Torres was decorated by Maduro with the Rafael Urdaneta First Class Order. However, over the subsequent years, a rift opened between the former general and the Maduro administration.
In the aftermath of a June 2017 helicopter attack on Venezuela’s Supreme Court and Interior Ministry perpetrated by renegade police officer Oscar Perez, the government accused Rodriguez Torres of having designated the former B-grade actor his personal pilot.
At the time, Maduro also said he had “proof” that the former intelligence chief had “worked for the CIA”.
Rodriguez Torres denied any links to Perez, but confirmed that he had maintained communications with the US’ Central Intelligence Agency allegedly on the orders of former President Hugo Chavez.
“[Chavez] stressed that we had to have firm relations with the CIA… this was the instruction Commander Chavez gave me,” he stated.
In recent months, the ex-interior minister has grown closer to the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) opposition coalition, appearing alongside prominent right-wing leaders such as Julio Borges, Freddy Guevara and ex-presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, whom Rodriguez Torres’ intelligence services had detained in 2004 for his role in the 2002 coup.
In February, Rodriguez Torres was formally barred by Venezuela’s Ombudsman from holding public office for one year. No public explanation was given at the time for measure. The move came several weeks after a controversial raid by state security forces that resulted in the death of Oscar Perez and the dismantling of his armed group. Following the incident, Penitentiary Affairs Minister Iris Varela called for the arrest of Rodriguez Torres, who she accused of being the “mentor” of the fugitive police officer.
Most recently, his political movement, the Broad Defiance Movement (MAD), has joined the newly formed Free Venezuela Broad Front, which is comprised of the right-wing MUD alliance, the Fedecameras business lobby, as well as other conservative civil society groupings.
The Broad Front has denounced the “irregular” detention of both Rodriguez Torres and MAD’s National Woman’s Coordinator, Indira Urbaneja. MAD spokespersons have, for their part, described the arrests as a “kidnapping”.
Prominent North-American lawyer and former Chavez adviser Eva Golinger also immediately criticised his detention, claiming via Twitter that any evidence against him is “falsified and fake”.