Fresh evidence of the Venezuelan narcostate

A new revelation that US federal prosecutors in New York have targeted the commander of Venezuela’s National Guard, Nestor Reverol, for drug trafficking confirms what I told a Congressional subcommittee just last week.

Indeed, in response to questioning by Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Duncan (R-SC), I named Reverol as a central figure in a plot by Nicolás Maduro’s regime to rally the military to resist the results of the recent electoral landslide that gave the democratic opposition a supermajority in the National Assembly. My testimony urges US authorities to expose and punish the criminality of senior Venezuelan officials who are seeking to evade the accountability that will come with opposition oversight.

According to a Reuters report this week, “US prosecutors are preparing to unveil drug trafficking charges against the head of Venezuela’s National Guard (Reverol),… as the United States investigates the suspected involvement of senior Venezuelan officials in the cocaine trade.”

My testimony explains that Venezuela’s government is a major facilitator and beneficiary of illicit trafficking. The Venezuelan regime’s complicity in narcotics trafficking has been rumored for years, but the depth and breadth of that government’s lawlessness was only partially revealed by the Wall Street Journal in a May 2015 article on ongoing US federal investigations into several high-ranking Venezuelan officials’ involvement in cocaine smuggling.

“A leading target, according to a Justice Department official and other American authorities, is National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, considered the country’s second most powerful man,” the article reported. “There is extensive evidence to justify that he [Cabello] is one of the heads, if not the head, of the cartel,” said the Justice Department source, referring to an alleged conspiracy involving military officers and other senior officials. The Journal published a similar report in October revealing investigations against Rafael Ramirez, the former president of the state-run oil company and currently Venezuela’s Ambassador to the United Nations.

Venezuela’s criminality became more difficult to ignore with the November arrest and indictment of two nephews of President Maduro — Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores — on charges of conspiring to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States. According to sources close to the investigation, the two men, who were traveling on Venezuelan diplomatic passports, implicated both Cabello and Aragua state governor Tarek El Aissami in the smuggling plot.

Further reports published last month claim that other Maduro relatives have used corporate jets belonging to the state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela in their illegal drug smuggling operations.

As I told the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, “Inexplicably, US policymakers appear to be purposely pulling their punches against the Venezuelan narcostate, under the delusion that a strategy of accommodation will either placate the regime or forestall its inevitable implosion…. Sources involved with US investigations against corrupt Venezuelan officials complain that the State Department is seen as an obstacle to law enforcement efforts, as visas for cooperating witnesses have been cancelled or denied without explanation.”

The opposition in Venezuela will take control of the assembly in January, with a mandate of restoring order and accountability to the country. For them to succeed, the United States and the international community must support them, rather than seek a policy that props up a narcostate for the sake of “stability.” Exposing the widespread corruption of the Maduro regime has never been more urgent.

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