Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Sorbay Padilla De Garcia, wife of retired Venezuelan National Guard Col. Oswaldo Garcia Palomo, listens to her daughter Fabiola as her son Oswaldo looks on in Montreal on Thursday.

Exiled in Montreal, family fears former Venezuelan officer being tortured

MONTREAL — Oswaldo Garcia Padilla says he has experienced firsthand the brutality of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s regime

Last February, masked men broke into the family home outside Caracas, looking for his father, retired Venezuelan National Guard Col. Oswaldo Garcia Palomo. The retired officer, an outspoken Maduro critic, had declared his intention to amass a force to overthrow the regime.

Garcia Palomo had fled the residence outside Caracas a few days earlier, so the heavily armed intruders seized his wife and son.

“They locked me in a very small room. Every moment they hit me,” Garcia Padilla, 25, said in an interview this week in Montreal where he, his sister Fabiola, 23, and their mother Sorbay Padilla De Garcia are exiled.

“They put guns in my mouth,” Garcia Padilla continued, looking at the floor. ”They hit me with a gun. They put a bag on my head and put tear gas in it and closed the bag. I passed out. They used electricity all over my body. I only ate once in four days.”

This week the family learned that the retired colonel, who had been living as a fugitive in Colombia, had been captured after clandestinely entering Venezuela. And now they believe he is being tortured.

On Monday, Canada will host a meeting in Ottawa of Western Hemisphere countries, known as the Lima Group, to address the political and economic crisis in Venezuela. The family says they have been assured by Global Affairs Canada that Garcia Palomo’s detention will be raised at the meeting.

The Lima Group was formed in August 2017 to address Venezuela’s slide into authoritarianism. Millions of Venezuelans have fled the country, which is struggling with hyperinflation, widespread food shortages and anemic economic activity.

Last week, Juan Guaido, the head of the opposition-controlled congress, declared that he had assumed presidential powers under the constitution and planned to hold fresh elections to end Maduro’s “dictatorship.” Guaido’s leadership over the country was quickly recognized by the United States, Canada and many Latin American nations.

After Garcia Padilla was released last February, he fled to Colombia and then to Montreal, where he claimed asylum in March. His sister had already been in the city on a work visa. Their mother had been travelling back and forth from Montreal to Colombia to visit her husband.

The retired colonel’s wife doesn’t speak English, but her words were translated by her daughter during the interview. Padilla De Garcia said she wants the Lima Group meeting to recognize that members of the Venezuelan military support her husband and are ready to overthrow the regime. High-ranking members of the military, however, continue to support Maduro.

“The flame is alive,” Padilla De Garcia said. The regime might have captured her husband, but there are elements in the military ready who are ready to desert Maduro, she said. ”They know something is coming.” She said she believes it’s a matter of weeks before Maduro is removed from office.

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