Venezuela has large caches of weapons that are at risk of falling into the wrong hands, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency told a Senate panel Thursday, adding, It's a real threat. CIA Director Mike Pompeo shared that assessment at a Senate intelligence committee hearing.
Venezuela is in its second month of often-violent street protests, with at least 45 deaths resulting from clashes between its socialist government's supporters and foes.
Pompeo's comment came in response to a question from U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. The Florida Republican had asked about threats posed by groups armed by the regime of Nicolas Maduro to defend him from the protests.
Rubio has suggested that these armed groups, called colectivos, could sell arms on the black market to drug traffickers or terrorist organizations such as FARC — which recently ended decades of war with Venezuela's neighbor, Colombia — or the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
Pompeo acknowledged the threat but said the CIA had no evidence of contacts between terrorists and Venezuela's armed groups. The groups' actions outside Maduro's control do represent a risk, but we need more details, Pompeo said. For now, we have no evidence that it is happening.
The CIA director said such collaborations most likely would have dangerous reverberations throughout the region.
Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, told the Senate panel that Venezuela's unpopular government had lost its credibility after mismanaging its economy and stripping away some democratic norms. Maduro, who has jailed political opponents and delayed long-overdue elections, earlier this month called for a new constitution, fueling more anger among Venezuelans already bitter over severe and chronic shortages of food, medicine and other basics.
Venezuelan government security forces have used tear gas and rubber bullets to quell demonstrations.
The unpopular and autocratic government of Venezuela will opt for more repressive methods to contain political opponents and discontent in the streets, Coats predicted.
Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the situation in Venezuela a real tragedy but said the U.S. government aimed for working with others, including [in] interventions by others in Europe, to help resolve it.