In what appears a wild and bizarre attempt to kick start an “arm the moderate rebels” campaign or establish a “Free Venezuelan Army” of sorts, a rogue Venezuelan colonel who’d been living in exile was arrested after he slipped back into the country as part of a clandestine operation to organize and arm the opposition. The arrest and detention of 54-year old retired Colonel Oswaldo Garcia Palomo was confirmed by his associates on Tuesday, and came after the former National Guard officer tipped off Bloomberg that some kind of secret mission was in the works last week with the cryptic words, “Pay attention to me in the coming days.”
Tu @NicolasMaduro eres responsable por la integridad de nuestro compañero de lucha el Cnel Oswaldo García Palomo, tú arrastrado GB Orlando Romero Bolívar lo entregó porq prefiere perder al país en tus manos q rescatar la dignidad del pueblo, pagarán por sus actos. pic.twitter.com/nSpbPMK7HM
— Operación Constitución 2018 (@OpConst2018) January 29, 2019
Garcia in a widely cited interview with Bloomberg last December had described that he was personally “working every day to combine international and national forces, and remove the government through the use of arms so the country doesn’t continue to bleed out and die.”
For this reason the Maduro regime has long accused him of treason and conspiring against the government from neighboring Colombia, in some cases raiding homes of known associates accused of being in contact with the rogue officer. Garcia’s family is currently living in exile in Montreal, Canada.
He’s further been described as “actively and publicly seeking the ouster of President Nicolas Maduro” and has recently pledged military support to US-recognized “Interim President” and opposition National Assembly leader Juan Guaido. On Tuesday a group under his leadership called “Operación Constitución 2018” published via social media an “alert” saying he’s been detained inside Venezuela by military police.
The group of supporters further called on Guaido to “act as our commander in chief” and take control of the armed forces while rally the international community to pressure Caracas into releasing Garcia. “We hold the regime responsible for his physical well-being,” one tweet said.
According to a report by Canadian Broadcast Company, which interviewed Oswaldo Garcia Palomo’s family members following news of his capture by military intelligence:
He continued to reach out in exile to colleagues still inside Venezuela, and occasionally crossed the border personally.
It was on one such cross-border mission that he was captured overnight Monday, in the Venezuelan state of Tachira, after crossing from the Colombian city of Cucuta. His family now fears for his life.
“I did everything but get on my knees and ask him not to go back,” said his wife Sorbay de Padilla. “But he said, ‘I can’t think of just myself. There are kids starving and people dying without medicine. I have to think of my country.'”
The organization calling itself Operación Constitución 2018 appears part of the same opposition in exile movement that attempted an officer-led coup last year, as Bloomberg describes:
The retired colonel was among scores of officers and special-forces troops across all four branches of the Venezuelan armed forces who launched one of the most serious failed coups last year, known as Operation Constitution. The plan was infiltrated and dozens of his fellow plotters were arrested; he escaped and continued to agitate.
But both last year’s coup attempt and this week’s “infiltration” stunt by Garcia were premature and could be a sign that both the internal and external opposition are interpreting Washington’s regime change rhetoric in an overly optimistic and impatient manner.
One the one hand the White House continues to very vocally tout its commitment to a rapid and “peaceful transition of power” with “all options on the table” — yet on the other the National Bolivarian Armed Forces have clearly remained loyal to President Maduro even as a dozen countries have declared Maduro “illegitimate”.
This appears a recipe for more false starts and premature “rebellion” attempts by an expectant opposition, likely to be easily crushed by pro-Maduro forces, who can further rally the people by pointing to the “foreign hand” and “imperial puppets” behind recent coup plotting.