BOGOTA, Colombia—A high-ranking Venezuelan military official has been deported from Colombia after being detained by migration officials for allegedly undertaking a mission to recover various items from his country’s now-closed embassy.
Lt. Col. Edgar Alejandro Lugo Pereira was traveling with two women on a tourist permit but was actually sent to Colombia to retrieve passports, documents, and money from the Venezuelan Embassy, according to Colombia’s Customs and Migration Agency.
Officials said there were 25 Venezuelan passports and $44,000 in cash in his possession.
Pereira had entered Colombia through the Caribbean city of Cartagena in order to deceive migration officials while on an “intelligence mission” and had items such as USB flash drives that could contain “delicate information” for Nicolás Maduro’s regime, a government official speaking on condition of anonymity told The Epoch Times.
Pereira was deported March 24 and will now be denied entry into Colombia for 10 years.
Maduro regime officials claim Pereira and his companions were sent by the foreign office to visit the consulate in Cartagena and the embassy in Bogotá to resolve outstanding payments following the rupture of diplomacy between the two countries. In a press release, they demanded the immediate return of the confiscated assets, or else there would be “reciprocal actions.”
The Venezuelan embassy and consulates in Colombia have been closed since Maduro cut all diplomatic relations with the neighboring country on Jan. 23 when a mission to send U.S.-donated humanitarian aid into Venezuela via Colombia ended in skirmishes and chaos.
Little is known about the military official’s two companions or why the group had been sent to retrieve the passports that were left behind, which could belong to intelligence agents.
An increasing number of individuals have been deported from Colombia in recent months for allegedly carrying out intelligence missions. On March 16, a Cuban national connected to the infamous G-2 intelligence directorate was found spying on a key Colombian aerial military base and was expelled from the country. Cuban intelligence agents are believed to operate extensively across Venezuela to help prop up Maduro.
Across the border, many questions went unanswered on March 23 as two Russian jets, which some reports say contained military equipment and troops, arrived in Caracas.
The vice president of Venezuela’s Socialist Party and Maduro’s right-hand man, Diosdado Cabello, confirmed that two planes had arrived from their key ally, but didn’t specify why or if troops were actually on board.
“The planes from Russia landed in Venezuela because they were authorized by the only government that there is in Venezuela, and it’s called the government of Nicolas Maduro,” Cabello said on state television, making reference to the fact that National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó has declared himself the country’s legitimate interim president, and has the backing of Washington and 50 other nations.
In response, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department condemned the action as a “reckless escalation of the situation” to reporters on March 24. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, that the United States and its allies “will not stand idly by as Russia exacerbates tensions in Venezuela.”
Friction between the United States, Russia, and Venezuela had already flared up in December 2018 when two Russian bombers touched down in Caracas. Tensions have escalated yet further since the United States quickly recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s president and increased sanctions on key Venezuelan industries in an effort to stifle the Maduro regime.
The economic and social crisis that has plagued Venezuela in recent years continues to intensify, with a wave of power cuts returning on March 24.
More than a dozen states were hit by outages, and close to 90 percent of the country was plunged into darkness.
With the country already hit by rampant hyperinflation and widespread food and medicine shortages, blackouts make the existing crisis even more unlivable as safety declines, water pumps fail, and food spoils in family fridges and supermarkets.