BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombian authorities said Thursday they’ve captured a Venezuelan soldier who claimed to seek refuge in the neighboring Andean nation but was actually still working for his old boss and spying on the military.
Gerardo Rojas was captured at a roadside checkpoint in northeastern Colombia Wednesday and found carrying documents identifying him as an active sergeant with the Venezuelan military from Lara state.
“He entered the country as a refugee – with the mission of spying,” Colombia’s military said in a brief statement on the arrest.
No information was provided on when Rojas entered the country, but investigators said he first worked as a juice vendor in front of a military installation and later took a job as a security guard with a public transportation company in Valledupar that allowed him to observe the movements of a military brigade.
There was no immediate comments from Venezuelan officials.
Hundreds of Venezuelan soldiers defected early last year, running across the lawless border and seeking asylum in Colombia after a failed opposition bid to bring in humanitarian aid. President Nicolás Maduro dismissed the aid push as part of a U.S.-backed effort to remove him from power and ordered the military to block the supplies from entering the crisis-torn nation.
Accusations swirled at the time that some of the soldiers could be spies. Many initially had hopes of forming an army in exile – and some went on to join secret training camps led by a former Green Beret who staged a failed incursion into Venezuela in May. Others grew disenchanted, moving to other cities with their families and pursuing lives as migrants working jobs like street vendors.
Colombian authorities say Rojas had been given training in “infiltration.”
Venezuelan officials have asserted in recent weeks that their spies were responsible for thwarting the ill-fated attack organized by Florida-based veteran Jordan Goudreau. Two U.S. citizens and a group of combatants were captured after a beach raid allegedly launched with the aim of capturing Maduro.
The U.S. government has denied any involvement in the plot.
Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez said at the time Venezuela has infiltrated “the heart of the Colombian armed forces.” Colombian Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said authorities would investigate and hold anyone found spying accountable.