Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act have exposed a secretive Foreign Office unit aimed at the ‘reconstruction’ of Venezuela. The files also reveal private discussions between Venezuelan opposition figures and UK officials, detailing proposals for the promotion of British business after a planned coup.
Over the past 16 months, the UK government has consistently supported Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaidó’s attempts to topple the elected government of president Nicolás Maduro.
In late January 2019, for example, the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) urged the Bank of England to grant Guaidó access to £1.2bn of Venezuelan gold reserves.
The Department for International Development (DFID) has also pledged some £40m of ‘humanitarian assistance’ to Venezuela, but it has refused to reveal where this assistance is going.
In January 2020, Guaidó travelled to London to meet with UK government officials and shore up international support for his flailing efforts to overthrow the Venezuelan government.
Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act offer details of his visit, and reveal the existence of a specialist unit within the FCO dedicated to the ‘reconstruction’ of Venezuela.
On his visit, Guaidó met with foreign secretary Dominic Raab, minister for the Americas Christopher Pincher, and director for the Americas Hugo Shorter.
Notably, the list also includes “Head [of the] Venezuela Reconstruction Unit, FCO”, John Saville. The existence of this unit has never been publicly acknowledged by either the FCO or Saville, who was formerly UK ambassador to Venezuela (2014-2017). Saville’s biography on the UK government’s website, for instance, bears no mention of the unit.