Cartel Kingpin or Not, Diosdado Revelation Unlikely to Dethrone

By: Elisa Vásquez - @elisavasquez88 - Jan 28, 2015, 9:24 am
Leamsy Salazar, former head of security for Chávez, is allegedly cooperating with the US Drug Enforcement Agency to prosecute Diosdado Cabello on international drug-trafficking charges.
Leamsy Salazar, former head of security for Chávez, is allegedly cooperating with the US Drug Enforcement Agency to prosecute Diosdado Cabello on international drug-trafficking charges. (Maduradas)

EspañolHugo Chávez’s former head of security, Leamsy Salazar, fled to the United States on Monday, January 26, and entered the DEA’s witness protection program. According to ABC and El Nuevo Herald, Salazar will testify on the alleged criminal activities of National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello. Salazar claims Cabello is the leader of the Soles cartel, and says the group is made up of several Venezuelan army officers and politicians who control drug trafficking in the country.

The charges are significant, but will the United States be able to successfully prosecute Chavismo‘s strongman? The historical record suggests its unlikely.

William Brownfield, assistant secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and former US ambassador to Venezuela (2004-2007) and Colombia (2007-2010), could neither “confirm nor deny” a federal indictment against Cabello. However, he indicated that “historically, big international narcotics cases are usually tried in Florida’s Southern District or in New York’s Southern District,” the latter being where Leamsy Salazar, according to ABC, will offer his testimony.

Given his power in Venezuela, Cabello’s arrest is doubtful, says Cato Institute drug-war specialist and policy analyst Juan Carlos Hidalgo.

“I don’t see how a DEA report involving him with drug smuggling could affect his position [in Venezuela], just like it didn’t happen with other army officers that the United States singled out as drug lords in Venezuela,” he told the PanAm Post.

However, if Leamsy Salazar’s accusations are proven true, the political repercussions could be historical.

Venezuelan reporter Luz Mely Reyes said that a unilateral prosecution would not be enough to take down Cabello. “To involve the president of the National Assembly has huge political and legal implications. [But] one person’s testimony is not enough to determine his culpability,” she told the PanAm Post, adding that previous narcotics investigations in the United States have only targeted lower-rank officials.

Hidalgo believes Salazar’s defection to the United States is more likely to provoke another round of anti-US rhetoric from Venezuelan officials, rather than any significant changes in government.

For his part, Cabello responded to the allegations via his Twitter account: “Every attack against me strengthens my spirit and commitment, [and] I immensely appreciate the people’s display of solidarity.”

“We have weathered threats, slander, conspiracies all these years of revolution, we learned from the best to sail through these storms with our heads held high.”

Other Chavistas took to social media to denounce the charges as well:

“The CIA buys the conscience of @DCabelloR’s bodyguard to link [Cabello] to drug trafficking. Faced with this slander, we are with you comrade!”

Luz Mely Reyes expects the Venezuelan media to patiently wait for the results of the investigation. In 2014, after Aruba detained former military intelligence officer Hugo Carvajal at the United States’s request, the Venezuelan official filed a defamation suit against seven journalists in the country who reported on the arrest.

Key Witness

Lieutenant Commander Leamsy Salazar was Hugo Chávez’s head of security for 10 years, and until December 2014 was Diosdado Cabello’s right-hand man.

On Tuesday, Luz Mely Reyes reported Salazar left Venezuela for Madrid, Spain, presumably on his honeymoon days after getting married. However, according to Reyes’s sources, the US State Department contacted Salazar in Europe, prior to him landing in New York.

ABC‘s investigation suggests Salazar will testify that the Soles cartel transports drugs produced by Colombia’s FARC into Venezuela. Drug shipments then move through Venezuela, at times with the protection of the Cuban government, before making their way to the United States. Salazar also claims to have witnessed Cabello give explicit orders regarding a boat shipment holding several tons of cocaine.

“Mountains of Cash”

The former bodyguard will also provide the DEA the exact location of the “mountains of dollars in cash” that Salazar says were gained from illicit drug trade.

Salazar’s allegations have revived interest in a December 8 seizure of a truck filled with cash (US$10 million) coming from the United States, just outside Puerto Cabello in Carabobo state, Venezuela. Just days after the incident, Diosdado Cabello said on national television that the money belonged to Venezuelan opposition leaders, but offered no evidence.

However, on Friday, January 23, the Public Prosecutor’s Office made their first formal accusation in the case. Authorities charged 49-year-old Arquímedes José Rondón with criminal association and money laundering under the Law Against Organized Crime and Funding of Terrorism, in connection with $4.2 million found in the truck.

Salazar’s accusations then beg the question: where are the other $6 million? Is the money somehow tied to the Soles cartel? Venezuela’s justice system must swiftly address the case, demand transparency from government officials, and prosecute those involved. However, trust in the law has fallen so low, it wouldn’t surprise me if those holding on to sensitive information are suddenly nowhere to be found.

Sabrina Martín contributed to this article.

Translated by Daniel Duarte.

Elisa Vásquez Elisa Vásquez

Elisa Vásquez is a Venezuelan journalist with experience covering social and community topics. Her specialty is human rights education and international solidarity. She reports from Panama City. Follow her on Twitter @elisavasquez88.

Kirchner Rolls Out New Intelligence Agency in Wake of Nisman Tragedy

By: Belén Marty - @belenmarty - Jan 27, 2015, 10:10 pm

EspañolOne week after the mysterious death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner appeared on television and radio to announce the creation of a Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI). The new agency, announced on Monday, January 20, will replace the Intelligence Secretariat, which Secretary General of the Presidency Aníbal Fernández has claimed was involved in Nisman's death. In her first public appearance to address the death that shook the nation, she doubled down on her social-media condemnation of Nisman's accusations. He was to share evidence that the administration attempted to whitewash Iran's involvement in the 1994 bombing of the Argentinean-Israeli Jewish Association (AMIA). "It's ridiculous that our government could even be suspected of doing it. Nisman's accusation is so absurd that it fits no criminal charge," the president struck back on Monday evening. She spoke for almost an hour on Nisman's death, focusing on his former assistant Alberto Lagomarsino, indicted earlier that day as the owner of the gun found next to Nisman's body. Kirchner stated that the purpose of the AFI is to "bring transparency, once and for all, to a system that has not been used for intelligence ... and has not served national interests." She stressed that the dissolution of the current Intelligence Secretariat is a long-standing "democratic debt." The bill will be discussed in extraordinary legislative sessions requested by the president as early as February 1. The director and subdirector of the new agency will be appointed by the president, with Senate approval, to a four-year term, and will be "limited to investigating complex federal crimes or constitutional violations." If the law is enacted, the Public Prosecutor's Office will take over the judicial wiretapping system that is currently in the hands of the Executive. Near the end of her speech, the president also attempted to discredit Nisman's accusations against her and Foreign Minister Héctor Timmerman. She said she doubted the "ridiculous" document had been written by a lawyer, "much less by a prosecutor." In his usual morning brief on Tuesday, Chief of Staff Jorge Capitanich did not say what would happen with the current Intelligence Secretariat cadre. However, Secretary Oscar Parrilli may well remain at the helm of the new agency. Responding to political opponents who criticized the timing of the intelligence system rebranding, Capitanich struck back: "To ask why it is being done now and not earlier is the same as asking why the May Revolution [Argentina's independence from Spain] happened on May 25, 1810 and not on May 25, 1809." "Smokescreen" Criticism Pours In "CFK [Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner] must give an explanation about existing accusations. To have us debate [the Intelligence Secretariat's] democratization is just a distraction." Political opponents have largely concurred that the presidential address and the new bill are part of a strategy — a "smokescreen" — to shift the public's attention away from Nisman's accusation. Ernesto Sanz, president of the social-democrat Radical Civic Union (UCR) and a presidential contender, said "it's insulting that the president says the problem is the Intelligence Secretariat, when she did not do anything to change it during her administration's 12 years in power." In the same vein, former Vice President Julio Cobos said "The government is changing subjects, but there's a very serious accusation against the president, and a public prosecutor is dead. That's the heart of the matter." Patricia Bullrich, an opposition deputy for the opposition Unión Pro coalition, described Kirchner's speech: "She insisted on the complot theory against her and defended the Memorandum of Understanding with Iran, putting the blame of its obstruction on the justice system; but the truth is that the Iranians never got it approved in their own country." "It was the Kirchner who turned the Intelligence Secretariat into an extralegal organization, useful for politics and political persecution rather than fighting crime," said social-democrat GEN party leader Margarita Stolbizer. Jorge Knoblovits, head of the Delegation of Argentinean-Israeli Associations (DAIA) rounded out the denunciation of Kirchner's speech. He labelled it "reductionist" and said the president had "confused everything." Translated by Daniel Duarte. Edited by Fergus Hodgson.

Weekly E-Newsletter

Get the latest from PanAm Post direct to your inbox!

We will never share your email with anyone.