The Venezuelan government has distanced itself from Colombia's FARC rebels in recent months, but its response to the U.S.'s naming of four more high-level officials as aiding the guerrillas is cause for concern.
On Thursday, the U.S. government claimed to have damning evidence of links between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and allies of President Hugo Chavez. The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) added a Venezuelan general, an intelligence officer and two political associates of President Hugo Chavez to its Foreign Narcotics Kingpins list, banning U.S. citizens from conducting business with them and freezing any assets they have in the country.
The list includes Venezuela’s Latin American Parliament delegate Amilcar Jesus Figueroa Salazar; congressman Freddy Bernal; General Cliver Alcala Cordones, who is in charge of the military’s 4th Armored Division; and Ramon Isidro Madriz Moreno, an officer in the National Bolivarian Intelligence Service (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional – SEBIN).
According to the Treasury’s press release, all of the men are “key facilitators of arms, security, training and other assistance in support of the FARC’s operations in Venezuela.” However, especially noteworthy are the charges against General Alcala Cliver. U.S. officials say he used his position to establish a drugs-for-guns trade with the rebels, suggesting high-level complicity with the illicit narcotics trade in the Venezuelan military.
Evidence for many of these charges was made public in 2008, with the discovery of a computer belonging to deceased FARC commander Luis Edgar Devia Silva, alias “Raul Reyes.” As InSight Crime has reported, the computer files allegedly document ties between Chavez and the FARC, starting from around 2006. According to the Associated Press, the files refer to both Alcala and Figueroa by name.
This is not the first time that the U.S. has accused officials within the Venezuelan government of supporting the FARC. In 2008 the OFAC added three other Venezuelan political figures to the kingpin list, also for allegedly supplying the rebels with arms and assisting them in trafficking cocaine through the country. Last November, Chavez promoted one of them, Henry Rangel Silva, to general-in-chief, in an apparent thumbing of his nose at U.S. authorities.
The Venezuelan government’s response to the latest accusation has been similarly confrontational. In a statement released on Thursday in the state media, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro accused the U.S. Treasury Department of "trying to become a kind of global police in order to judge the decent citizens of our country.” However, the statement does not address the very real increase in criminal activity that the country has undergone in recent years. Although Chavez has made an effort to crack down on guerrilla activity in his country recently, his efforts have not affected the illicit narcotics trade. Drug trafficking has surged in the past few years, and Venezuela is now the principal source of Europe's cocaine. On top of this, the Venezuelan murder rate has risen to 47 per 100,000 people, making the country one of the most dangerous places in the world.
As InSight Crime has reported previously, one of the larger players in this is the shadowy “Cartel of the Suns,” comprised of corrupt elements of the armed forces and so named because of the gold stars Venezuelan generals wear on their epaulettes. Walid Makled, an alleged druglord who had been in Colombian custody but was eventually handed over to Venezuela, specifically mentioned General Alcala as a member of this group.
Sovereignty issues aside, it is at the very least disturbing for Venezuela to continue to dismiss these allegations of corruption. If the charges are as baseless as Foreign Minister Maduro claims, then there will be no problem with establishing an independent investigation into the matter. By denouncing them as politicized manifestations of Yankee imperialism, Venezuelan officials are only digging themselves deeper into a hole, setting themselves up for a major scandal if further information comes to light about these officials.