Venezuelan family of captured Maduro critic says Ottawa has offered to help

A former Venezuelan military officer who was leading efforts to persuade his comrades to stop supporting the Nicolas Maduro regime has been captured by pro-Maduro forces in Venezuela.

'I did everything but get on my knees and ask him not to go back,' says wife of Col. Oswaldo Garcia Palomo

Col. Oswaldo Garcia Palomo with family in Montreal. (CBC News)

A former Venezuelan military officer who was leading efforts to persuade his comrades to stop supporting the Nicolas Maduro regime has been captured by pro-Maduro forces in Venezuela.

The wife and two adult children of Col. Oswaldo Garcia Palomo are living in exile in Montreal. Their story was covered by CBC News last week.

Garcia Palomo's daughter, Fabiola, 24, who came to Montreal to study business, said her family has received a call from an official at Global Affairs Canada who told her that her father's case would be brought up next week when Canada hosts members of the 'Lima group' of South and Central American countries to discuss the crisis in Venezuela.

"He said that we have their support and if we need anything we can contact them anytime," Fabiola said. "He was telling us that next Monday they are going to have a meeting and they are going to bring up my dad's problem and they are going to talk about it with other countries."

The Lima group was formed in the summer of 2017 and includes Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Guyana and Saint Lucia. 

Canada is hosting a meeting of member states on Monday in an effort to find a resolution to the turmoil in Venezuela, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said yesterday. CBC News has reached out to Freeland's department but has not yet received a response.

Fabiola said she has not been invited to attend the Lima group meeting but her family would be willing to go if asked.

Captured by military intelligence

Garcia Palomo was living in Colombia, a country where many members of Venezuela's opposition have taken refuge. He continued to reach out in exile to colleagues still inside Venezuela, and occasionally crossed the border personally.

It was on one such cross-border mission that he was captured overnight Monday, in the Venezuelan state of Tachira, after crossing from the Colombian city of Cucuta.

His family now fears for his life.

"I did everything but get on my knees and ask him not to go back," said his wife Sorbay de Padilla. "But he said, 'I can't think of just myself. There are kids starving and people dying without medicine. I have to think of my country.'"

The family has heard through contacts in the Venezuelan military that Garcia Palomo is now being held by DGCIM, Venezuela's military intelligence service.

DGCIM has been at the forefront of a hunt for suspected rebels and defectors in the Venezuelan military that human rights groups say has been marked by arbitrary detentions and torture.

Torture fears

Fabiola said her mother Sorbay de Padilla, 50, is in Canada on a regular visitor's visa while her brother Oswaldo Jr., 25, is in the country under the refugee system.

"Honestly, I do not know what I am feeling. My mother doesn't know either. We just want him to be released," she said.

"We don't know exactly what happened. But the way they work is they kidnap people and they keep them in safe houses. In these houses they torture people. We don't know what happened, but we think he is in one of these houses being tortured by them."

Speaking through her daughter, Garcia Palomo's wife said she's afraid of what might happen to her husband if he is not released and is seeking proof of life and evidence that her husband is not being tortured.

Garcia Palomo has made no secret of his cross-border efforts to rally opposition to the Maduro regime. Bloomberg News reported late last year that he confirmed in an interview his efforts to promote insurrection to end the hyperinflation, corruption, hunger and lawlessness overseen by the Maduro government.

Garcia Palomo was implicated in a failed coup attempt launched by a group of military officers and special forces troops last year and has been accused of taking part in a plot to assassinate Maduro with drones packed with explosives — a claim he denies.

In the interview with Bloomberg News, Garcia said his group wants to install a civilian-headed junta and eventually call elections.