The photos first appeared in a tweet on Friday, shared by Wilfredo Canizares of the Fundacion Progresar (Progress Foundation), a Colombian NGO. They depict the US-sponsored “interim president” of Venezuela Juan Guaido posing chummily with two known drug lords, known under the aliases “The Brother,” and “The Minor.”
Canizares said the photos prove that Guaido “coordinated” with the gang to cross the border into Colombia in February, where he attended a Live Aid-style concert organized by billionaire philanthropist Richard Branson, hoping to gin up international support for the opposition’s cause.
A spokesperson for Guaido denied any connection to the traffickers, and insisted “he took many photos and it was difficult to know who was asking for photographs,” while the opposition leader himself told a Colombian radio station that the group did not help him cross the border.
“That crossing was very complex for us,” he added.
The Colombian Ministry of Defense also denied the claim, stating that “Guaido was not accompanied by criminals while in Colombian territory,” though a spokesman for the ministry did confirm that the men in the photos were members of a criminal organization.
Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government announced that it would open a probe into the incident to determine what ties, if any, the opposition figure might have to the traffickers. Earlier, Interior Minister Nestor Reverol presented the photos on television and said he would submit them as evidence to the state prosecutor’s office.
Los Rastrojos (The Leftovers) was founded in 2004, and consists of the remnants of Colombia’s Cali Cartel, a major competitor to Pablo Escobar’s cocaine empire in the 1980s. Now largely dismantled, the group still exists in pockets across Colombia, Venezuela and other Latin American countries, occasionally skirmishing with local authorities. The gang’s membership sat at over 1,500 in 2009, according to intelligence sources cited by El Espectador, a Colombian newspaper.
The Guaido-led opposition seeks to force Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to give up power in Caracas. A coup attempt in April – openly backed by US officials – failed to unseat the embattled socialist leader, but the opposition continues to coordinate with Washington to plan for Maduro’s ouster.
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