Maduro’s inner circle wants to see him step down, says former spy chief

Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro is isolated, and key members of his governing coalition have secretly begun searching for an exit strategy, with some ready to oust him if it gains them safe passage out of the current crisis, the country’s former spy chief says.

“There are many people [inside the regime] that have done business [and accumulated a lot of money], and are basically not interested in Maduro staying. That is the truth,” said Gen. Manuel Cristopher Figuera, the former head of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, who defected in April after taking part in an effort to have Maduro leave power.

The general, who is currently in the United States after first going underground in Venezuela, said he fled the country in fear for his life.

“There are people in the country, at different levels, desperate to get rid of Maduro ....There are ministers currently in office, there are mayors, there are governors. At this point, I do not believe that Maduro has unconditional backers, except for his family,” he added in an interview with el Nuevo Herald held at a Miami-area hotel.

Cristopher Figuera, an early supporter of former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, became head of the intelligence services in October 2018.

Under Chávez, Christopher Figuera served as an aide for over twelve years.[2] He became the deputy director of the Directorate General of Military Intelligence in 2007.

Among those who particularly want to see Maduro out of power are the so-called boliburgueses — the great tycoons that became billionaires and who benefited most from the corruption surrounding the regime. These tycoons, the general claimed, want to see an end to Maduro’s standoff with the United States and the international community.

Cristopher Figuera said the boliburgueses were behind April’s failed plot to get Maduro out, which also involved Maduro’s defense minister and the man in charge of the country’s Supreme Court, though in the end both failed to act.

Manuel Cristopher Figuera, former director of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service. Carl Juste

Trained in counterintelligence by the Cubans and the Belarusians, Cristopher Figuera was among the few military officers who did come forward during the April 30th uprising, freeing opposition leader Leopoldo López, who was under house arrest, and recognizing the authority of U.S.-backed Interim President Juan Guaidó.

That day, Maduro’s Defense Minister, Vladimir Padrino López, and the president of the Chavez Supreme Court of Justice, Maikel Moreno, had promised to act as well, then failed to do so, he said.

“Maikel Moreno had established a working relationship with Padrino. I knew that [the Defense Minister] was up to something. There were also other leaders, who have asked me not to mention them, including civilians and military. It’s people that are still hiding in the shadows,” the former intelligence chief said.

Padrino and Moreno had other ideas about what would happen after Maduro was out, Cristopher Figuera said.

“Maikel Moreno was asking for this transitional period to last about three and a half years. He was also asking to be allowed to appoint the Minister of Interior and Justice, and to appoint the prosecutor and continue as the head of the Supreme Court,” he said.

“What he was planning to do is worse than what we now have. It would not have been for Guaidó to assume the presidency, but [Moreno] who would be in charge of the transition. And he expected the United States to recognize him as the head of the transition process, ” he added.

It is not known how much Guaidó and the White House knew about Padrino’s and Moreno’s plans, but it is clear, according to Cristopher Figuera, that they had expected to step forward and recognize the 36-year-old interim president as Venezuela’s head of state.

In the end, neither of them acted and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said soon after it became obvious that the uprising had failed that Maduro had been preparing to leave for Cuba, but was talked out of it by Russia.

Maduro “had an airplane on the tarmac, he was ready to leave this morning as we understand it and the Russians indicated he should stay [...] He was headed for Havana,” Pompeo told CNN at the time.

According to Cristopher Figuera, Moreno was supposed to issue some sort of judicial decree that would provide justification for Maduro’s removal, which was to be followed by a pronouncement from Padrino stating that he had the backing of the Venezuela military.

The plans also called for the protection of Moreno, who expressed fear at the possible actions of the paramilitary gangs loyal to Maduro known in Venezuela as collectives. The conspirators also agreed to guarantee Maduro’s safety.

But while Moreno was the visible head of the movement, the boliburgueses really pulled the strings.

“Behind Moreno were the [tycoons.] There are many people who have benefited from the traffic of power and who have a lot of money, who are not interested in politics at all, but in their own benefit, and want to see a way out because now they want to enjoy their money,” Cristopher Figuera said.

Follow Antonio María Delgado on Twitter: @DelgadoAntonioM