WASHINGTON/HAVANA - Cuba has no troops in Venezuela and engages in no security operations there but maintains the right to military and intelligence cooperation with its ally, a top Cuban diplomat said Wednesday.
Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, Cuba’s director-general of U.S. affairs, told The Associated Press in Washington that the U.S. is falsely accusing his country of having more than 20,000 troops and intelligence agents in Venezuela.
De Cossio said there are roughly 20,000 Cubans in Venezuela but virtually all are medical workers.
“There are no troops,” he said in English. “Cuba does not participate in military operations nor in security operations in Venezuela.”
In Cuba’s most detailed public remarks yet on the U.S. accusations, de Cossio said that despite the lack of Cuban boots on the ground, he could not deny intelligence cooperation because “I don’t have that information.”
Broader intelligence or military cooperation would be “totally legitimate,” he added.
“The United States has over 800,000 Americans stationed around the world with over 600-700 military bases anywhere in the world. Any two countries in our region have military or intelligence cooperation and we have it with many countries. So it is totally legitimate, it is a sovereign right of Cuba and Venezuela to do so,” de Cossio said.
“But what I am saying is that in spite of having that right, there are no military personnel of Cuba or troops, nor do we participate in any military or security operation as is constantly alleged,” he added.
Cuba and Venezuela have had an extraordinarily tight alliance over the last two decades. That relationship has centered on Venezuela sending an estimated $30 billion worth of oil since 2003, in exchange for Cuba dispatching tens of thousands of medical workers and other civilian government employees.
Cuba also has a large and highly professional security and intelligence apparatus, which includes thousands of operatives who would not be considered military troops. Venezuelan defectors have reported the presence of Cubans in key positions among the Venezuelan armed forces and intelligence services, but to date there has been no public proof.
The Trump administration has nonetheless repeatedly insisted that there are more than 20,000 Cuban security operatives in Venezuela tasked with directly supporting embattled President Nicolas Maduro.
“If this afternoon 20-25,000 Cubans left Venezuela, I think Maduro would fall by midnight,” U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said at the White House on Tuesday. “It’s this foreign presence that sits on top of the military, sits on top of the government, that makes it impossible for the people’s voice to be heard.”