HomeNewsAnalysisIs Venezuelan Military Stepping Up Role in Drug Trafficking?
ANALYSIS

Is Venezuelan Military Stepping Up Role in Drug Trafficking?

CARTEL OF THE SUNS / 30 JAN 2012 BY JEREMY MCDERMOTT AND GEOFFREY RAMSEY EN

Allegations that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez knew of drug trafficking charges against his new defense minister not only suggest institutional corruption in the security forces, but that the president is unwilling, or unable, to take action.

In 2008, the US Treasury included Henry Rangel Silva on its list of Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers (SDNT), claiming that the general helped the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) smuggle cocaine into Venezuela. When Chavez appointed Rangel as minister of defense, the Bolivarian leader laughed off the accusations, saying that attacks against Rangel were propaganda designed to delegitimize the Venezuelan military.

As evidence, US officials had pointed to files found on computers and disks belonging to FARC commander Luis Edgar Devia Silva, alias “Raul Reyes” after Colombian forces assassinated him in 2008. Rangel is mentioned by name in the files, allegedly meeting with Rodrigo Londoño, alias "Timochenko," among others. Timochenko is now commander-in-chief of the FARC, after taking over the leadership of the Colombian rebel group in November last year when his predecessor Guillermo Leon Saenz, alias "Alfonso Cano," was killed by troops.

But while Chavez dismisses these allegations, recent evidence suggests that officials in his government notified him of them long before the US government added Rangel to its list of international drug traffickers. According to El Nuevo Herald, Chavez promoted him several times despite having been informed about his alleged links to drug trafficking. The Herald cites an “internal government report” dating back to 2007 which voices concern over Rangel’s connection to an earlier incident in which army officials were arrested while transporting 2.2 tons of cocaine. The document claims there was sufficient evidence linking Rangel to the case, and recommended that officials open an investigation into the matter, including an audit of his income.

It is likely that Rangel was promoted despite these claims due to his unquestioning loyalty to Chavez and the “Bolivarian Revolution.” In late 2010 the general declared that the armed forces were “married to the socialist political project,” adding that the military would not accept an opposition victory in this year’s presidential elections, “much less the people.”

Rangel is not the only Venezuelan official that the US has accused of drug trafficking ties. Two other officials were put on the SDNT list in 2008, and four more were added to the list in September. One of the most recent additions is General Cliver Alcala Cordones, who is in charge of the military’s 4th Armored Division. According to the Treasury’s press release, he used his position to establish a drugs-for-guns trade with the rebels, suggesting high-level complicity with the illicit narcotics trade on the part of the Venezuelan military.

InSight Crime spoke to senior international intelligence officials and contacts on the ground about the Venezuela situation. There have long been elements in the military that have facilitated the trafficking of drugs, the so-called Cartel de los Soles (Cartel of the Suns), so named after the gold stars that Venezuela generals wear on their epaulettes. The military is not only present along the border with Venezuela, but controls many of the departure points like Caracas' international airport Maiquetia and the port of Puerto Cabello, thus putting it in a perfect position to move drug shipments.

While the role of the Cartel de los Soles as a facilitating organization appears clear, thanks to testimony from drug trafficker Walid Makled, there are indications that it is shifting from simply facilitating the passage of drugs to actually taking direct control of shipments and routes.

While Venezuela has an impressive record in capturing and extraditing top drug traffickers, like Maximiliano Bonilla Orozco, alias "Valenciano," arrested in November 2011, there have been allegations that some of elements of the military have located these capos and extorted money from them, and then once they have been bled dry, they are arrested and their routes taken over.

While Colombian groups have traditionally controlled drug trafficking in Venezuela, there are indications that corrupt elements of the military are now becoming players and developing their own contacts with Mexican cartels.

Much of Chavez's regime relies on active or former military personnel, not just in the armed forces but throughout the organs of the state. It may be that while he is well aware of the allegations of drug trafficking in the military, the president is unable to challenge such powerful interest without undermining his own power base.

The promotions of both Rangel and Timochenko to the top of their respective organizations prompts one to consider where this relationship between the two men, if still intact, could go, with serious implications not just for the trafficking of drugs through Venezuela, but the future of the Colombia's 48-year civil conflict.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

CARTEL OF THE SUNS / 2 MAY 2022

In 2013, Nicolás Maduro became president of one of the world’s most important cocaine hubs, inheriting a unique drug trafficking…

CARTEL OF THE SUNS / 14 JAN 2021

The “Cartel of the Suns” (Cartel de los Soles) is the term used to describe the shadowy groups inside Venezuela’s…

CARTEL OF THE SUNS / 1 SEP 2022

InSight Crime charts the history of cocaine from agricultural extract to the basis of global criminal empires.

About InSight Crime

WORK WITH US

Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…