Latin America

Spain warns Venezuelan Embassy to stop attaché’s spying

Student group says military official infiltrated rallies held by groups opposed to Maduro

Miguel González
Venezuelan ambassador to Madrid Mario Isea.
Venezuelan ambassador to Madrid Mario Isea.KIKO HUESCA (EFE)
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Exteriores avisa a la Embajada de Venezuela que no acose a la oposición

The Spanish Foreign Ministry has issued a warning to Venezuela’s ambassador in Madrid to order the mission’s military attaché to stop harassing Venezuelan opposition groups in Spain.

For the moment, Spanish diplomats have preferred issuing the warning instead of ordering Venezuelan Lt. Colonel José Rafael Vásquez Mora, who is assigned to the embassy, to leave the country for spying on Venezuelan citizens. Spain does not want to further escalate the tensions that already exist between the Popular Party (PP) government of Mariano Rajoy and President Nicolás Maduro.

Last month, the Association of Venezuelan Students in Spain (EVE) filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office against Vásquez, accusing him of infiltrating different events and activities for the purpose of identifying its leaders. Vásquez Mora reportedly hid his true identity while attending the opposition rallies, EVE charged.

Vasquez’s alleged spying has resulted in personal attacks against some student leaders in pro-government media outlets back home

His spying, according to the complaint, has resulted in personal attacks against some student leaders in pro-government media outlets back home and has caused problems for families in sending money to students in Spain.

According to sources, Vásquez has 13 people – many of them military officials from Venezuelan intelligence – working with him at the embassy in Madrid.

After an investigation, the Foreign Ministry found that Vásquez was performing “duties incompatible” with his diplomatic status and warned Venezuelan Ambassador Mario Isea to order Vásquez to stop his spying activities.

For now, Spanish Foreign Minister Jesús García-Margallo does not want to order the expulsion of Vásquez because he fears the Caracas government would respond by doing the same to a staff member at the Spanish Embassy in Venezuela.

Such a move would only further escalate tensions between the two governments and may cause problems for the 200,000 Spaniards living in Venezuela and the Spanish companies that operate there, Spanish officials fear.

Spain fears an expulsion may cause problems for the 200,000 Spaniards living in Venezuela

Spain has complained on a number of occasions about the public insults that Maduro has hurled at Rajoy and other PP leaders. Despite the tensions, the two countries’ respective embassies remain open.

Sources have said that the warning to the Venezuelan Embassy is the best diplomatic route for the moment. But they add that the lieutenant general could eventually be expelled if he continues to harass opposition groups or if the Attorney General’s Office decides to take legal action.

Although Vásquez is not a diplomat, he could claim immunity from prosecution under the Vienna Convention.

The last crisis between Spain and Venezuela occurred on January 22 after a Spanish television station broadcast footage taken in December 2014 of members of Podemos, the Catalan anti-establishment party CUP, and the father of a convicted ETA terrorist boarding a Venezuelan presidential plane in Madrid.

Maduro had sent the aircraft to Madrid so that they could attend a conference in Caracas on human rights, independence and other issues.

Acting Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría called the trip “interference” by Venezuela in Spain’s internal affairs.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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