What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Former Maduro intelligence chief on why Guaido’s revolt failed

Venezuela is facing an economic crisis, with residents suffering shortages of electricity, food, gas and medicine. Its political fate is also unclear, as U.S.-backed Juan Guaido challenges President Nicolas Maduro. So far, Maduro has clung to power -- but some allies, including his former intelligence chief, have deserted him. Nick Schifrin talks to General Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Economically, Venezuela has collapsed, with severe shortages of electricity, food, gas, and medicine.

    Politically, the country's fate is unclear, with President Nicolas Maduro facing off against the U.S.-backed, National Assembly president, Juan Guaido.

    Maduro has clung to power, largely through the loyalty of key military and intelligence figures. But, in April, some of those allies flipped, leading a failed attempt to oust him.

    One of them is now in the U.S., and he spoke with our own Nick Schifrin.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For decades, General Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera was the loyal soldier to the Venezuelan regime, and last year he became the feared intelligence chief, whose agents punished the regime's opponents.

    But he says he saw the shortages of food, patients protesting and dying from a shortage of medicine, and children playing in the dark because of a shortage of power, and now he blames the country's ills on the corruption of President Nicolas Maduro and his family.

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    Having worked firsthand with Nicolas Maduro, after telling him about all the corruption that I saw, I realized there was no will, too much evil, and too much desire for power.

    Nicolas Maduro's son has a personal assistant who has several companies that contract with the state.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    It seems that the family of Nicolas Maduro was benefiting economically from their power, and taking money away from the government.

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    They use the platform of the state. They use the central bank of Venezuela to pull gold out of the country. I have called this system of government a criminal enterprise.

    Why? Because all contribute to corruption. They are all accomplices. I have also apologized, because I have some responsibility. I was part of that regime. But once I realized the mess of the entire tragedy for the people of Venezuela, I decided to step forward and oppose this criminal enterprise.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Do you feel like you did enough to resist initially?

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    I was part of a structure that is not in favor of the interests of the people, and I could have done more.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    He did more on April 30, when Juan Guaido announced a revolt. The plan required two senior officials to flip, Supreme Court Justice Maikel Moreno and Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez.

    Why do you think it failed?

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    The excessive ambitions of Maikel Moreno. He wanted to be president. But that wasn't in the plan. What was proposed was to oust Maduro and appoint a new national electoral council, call elections, and try to reorganize the state and free state institutions.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, Figuera is in the U.S. He asked us not to disclose his location, for fear of regime retribution.

    After you fled, was your deputy killed?

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    I placed him at the head of delicate and sensitive investigations. Surely, they discovered that he had sensitive information and made it seem he broke into a motel and shot himself. That was a simulated suicide.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Do you think that he was killed in order to send you a message?

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    Not only just me. It sent a message to me and all who dare to go against Nicolas Maduro's criminal enterprise.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Figuera admits he facilitated that enterprise. The U.N. recently detailed thousands of government human rights violations, such as torture and kidnapping, including by the intelligence institution he led, the SEBIN.

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    I carry the cross on my back, because there are many people who have suffered at the hands of people of that institution. I do not like to address the issue of torture, because I think it's very grotesque.

    We have seen films. We read books of what bad people do, evil people, when they have a prisoner.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Did you mistreat people? And do you think about that, and do you regret that?

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    Yes. Let me repeat, I am sorry and I do have regrets. I have asked forgiveness from people because I was part of those structures that are supporting Maduro, although I didn't directly order torture or torture anyone.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Was there any debate within the Maduro regime about how to treat some of these prisoners and how to treat their political opponents?

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    No. The orders were Nicolas Maduro directly. He gives the order.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Why should we believe you? Why should we believe your story, if you participated in some of these acts?

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    The majority of the people who say that are journalists or social media influencers, or they have some political agenda outside the country.

    And it's difficult for them to believe me, because I had no contact with anyone outside my country. In fact, I am the last military personnel they expected would turn against Maduro.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You had sanctions on you by the United States accusing you of torture. The United States has lifted those sanctions now.

  • Vice-President Mike Pence:

    I am announcing today that the United States of America is removing all sanctions on General Manuel Cristopher Figuera, effective immediately.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Do you think that the U.S. should forgive any of the people who have committed some of these acts, so long as they work to oppose Maduro?

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    I have not committed any crime. I was punished for being part of a criminal structure. But I have not committed a crime. People who have committed crimes must be brought to justice.

    I know there are accusations towards me in The Hague. But I am willing to appear before the court. They have to prove that I did those things.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Maduro remains in power, largely thanks to military support and the support of allies Russia, the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah, and, most importantly, Cuba.

    Did you have to go through a senior Cuban official in Caracas in order to communicate with Maduro?

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    I had relations with a colonel who was on the first ring of security for Nicolas Maduro. Safety equipment was provided by Raul Castro to Maduro. At first, there were few men, maybe 15.

    Now they have informed me, after the events of April 30, that number expanded, and there are about 200 Cubans dedicated to the safety of Maduro.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the U.S. have led an international pressure campaign against Maduro, including heavy sanctions.

    And hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have poured into the street to support Guaido. It hasn't been enough to oust Maduro.

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    On the subject of protest, it has not been strong enough, because people go out to protest, but then they have to stop to survive, because their salaries are not enough for food. They cannot afford to dress.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Why do you think there have been no attempts since April 30 to try and oust Maduro?

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    Because of fear. They are afraid.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Maduro accuses U.S. intelligence of plotting a coup. Figuera says they're not, but he is cooperating with them.

    How are they cooperating with people like you in order to get rid of Maduro?

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    By providing information that they have about financial movements, they can corroborate some things I have said.

    With accurate information, they can contribute to Maduro's departure from power, so he can be tried before international justices.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Have the U.S. intelligence officials you still speak to gone one step further, and supported a direct intervention against Maduro in Venezuela?

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    That's not the idea. It's a problem we Venezuelans have to solve. However, Maduro, with his attitude of contempt for the people of Venezuela, he is legitimizing any action we have to do to get out.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There are many stories that CIA has many people in Venezuela, Americans and Venezuelans, and that they have considered sending guns into Venezuela and contributing to the violent overthrow of Maduro?

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    I do not think that is more intense than the activity of Cuban intelligence or the intelligence of Chinese or Russian intelligence.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Later, he asked to provide a firmer denial of CIA involvement inside Venezuela.

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    No, there is not. The United States has been very careful, because, in their history, there have been problems.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Despite Venezuela's conditions today, he still defends his original mentor, former President Hugo Chavez.

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    Chavez played a political role in a stellar moment in history, but that's now been left behind. Maduro uses tricks. And he who has betrayed Chavez is Maduro.

    I am a Venezuelan, Bolivarian, fighter for justice and a believer of democracy.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So do you think democracy can be restored in Venezuela?

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera (through translator):

    Yes. That is why we are fighting. That's why I dared to leave my country, to seek help, to restore democracy, as written in our constitution.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    General Cristopher Figuera, thank you very much, sir.

  • Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera:

    Gracias.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you, sir.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest