Chávez the Cocaine Capo?
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
One of the world's top drug kingpins may soon be telling U.S. prosecutors everything he knows about Venezuelan officials who have abetted his cocaine smuggling operations.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez should be very troubled that a man whom President Obama has branded one of the world's most significant drug kingpins, Walid Makled-Garcia, may soon be telling U.S. federal prosecutors everything he knows about senior Venezuelan officials who have abetted his cocaine smuggling operations. Makled-Garcia's devastating testimony comes on the heels of fresh evidence of Chávez's support for terrorist groups from Spain, Colombia, and the Middle East and his apparent illegal support for Iran's nuclear weapons program. Slowly but surely, Chávez is being unmasked as a mastermind of a criminal regime.
According to a federal indictment unsealed in New York last Thursday, from 2006 through August 2010, Makled-Garcia conspired with Venezuelan officials to ship tons of cocaine from airstrips in that country to Central America, Mexico, and, ultimately, the United States. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called Makled-Garcia "a king among kingpins." Indeed, the Justice Department has designated him a "priority target," as one of the most dangerous and prolific narcotics traffickers.
Slowly but surely, Chávez is being unmasked as a deadly kingpin of a criminal regime.
Makled-Garcia was once known as one of Venezuela's most wealthy entrepreneurs. He came on to the radar screen of U.S. antidrug authorities years ago, when he was suspected of using his family business operations in the Venezuelan port of Puerto Cabello and his close ties to the Venezuelan military and Colombian narcotraffickers to smuggle cocaine. With the active complicity of dozens of senior Venezuelan authorities, Makled-Garcia allegedly operated a drug smuggling network using airstrips in Venezuelan territory. The family also is suspected of being involved in more than a dozen murders, including those of a respected Venezuelan journalist and a Colombian narcotrafficker.
Based on the U.S. indictment, Colombian authorities arrested Makled-Garcia on August 18, and are currently considering a U.S. extradition request for the notorious suspect. In the meantime, in a jailhouse interview with Colombia's RCN TV last week, Makled-Garcia said he has enough evidence of high-level drug corruption—including videos and bank records—"for the U.S. to intervene and invade Venezuela, as with [Manuel Antonio] Noriega in Panama."
Chávez pleaded with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to send the Venezuelan detainee home, where he would no doubt be silenced by Chavista police and judges.
"I gave money to 15 Venezuelan generals," the 41-year-old prisoner told RCN. "If I am arrested for a DC-9 loaded with drugs from the Simon Bolivar Airport, general Hugo Carvajal [director of Venezuela military intelligence], general Henry Rangel Silva [head of internal intelligence], general Luis Mota [commander of the national guard], and general Nestor Reveron [head of the anti-drug office] should be going to jail for that very reason."
In an interview last month with the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional, Makled-Garcia said, "As evidence of what I'm saying, I have vouchers, account numbers where I have deposited money in the name of wives, brothers and sisters" of "ministers, generals, admirals, colonels and five deputies of the National Assembly."
Acting Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration Michele M. Leonhart issued a statement last Thursday making it clear that she expects Makled-Garcia to be surrendered to U.S. authorities. "Due to the outstanding work with our partners in Colombia and elsewhere, Makled-Garcia is behind bars and awaiting extradition to the United States for the crimes in this indictment," she said. "He has built a vast global drug trafficking empire on illicit proceeds. His arrest will impact worldwide supplies of drugs, and we are committed to now ensuring he faces justice in the United States."
‘His arrest will impact worldwide supplies of drugs, and we are committed to now ensuring he faces justice in the United States.’
Of course, Chávez is desperate to get his hands on Makled-Garcia. He pleaded with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to send the Venezuelan detainee home, where he would no doubt be silenced by Chavista police and judges. Santos is unlikely to risk his country's long-standing alliance with U.S. law enforcement by sending Makled-Garcia anywhere but the United States. Moreover, as a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, the Colombian government also must satisfy human rights concerns by making a determination that Makled-Garcia will not be subject to torture if he is surrendered to Venezuela.
In a televised interview conducted during a visit to Cuba, Chávez said Sunday that he expected the United States to use Makled-Garcia's allegations "against Venezuela and its president" as a pretext "to take Venezuela to the International Criminal Court, to include Venezuela among states that support narcotrafficking and terrorism, as part of the 'empire's' game to mount operations against the Bolivarian Revolution."
Indeed, U.S. law enforcement agents and prosecutors have Venezuela's criminal network in their crosshairs, and Makled-Garcia is ready to implicate senior ministers and military leaders. Some may think that the conspiracy goes no higher than members of Chávez's inner circle. But Chávez appears to know better.
Roger F. Noriega was ambassador to the Organization of American States from 2001 to 2003 and assistant secretary of State from 2003 to 2005. He is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and managing director of Vision Americas LLC, which represents U.S. and foreign clients.
FURTHER READING: Noriega earlier questioned, “Will the U.S. Hand Chávez a License to Kill?” insisted on “Calling a State Sponsor a State Sponsor” of terrorism, and explained how “Hondurans, Not Zelaya, Will Decide Their Future.” Elsewhere, he discusses “Chávez’s Secret Nuclear Program,” “Chávez and China: Challenging U.S. Interests,” and “What Chávez Wants with Us.”
Image by Rob Green/Bergman Group.