Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Chavez-FARC-Drug trafficking connection

There this Fox News reporter, Adam Housley, who is also doing an investigation in Caracas about the connection of the drug cartel in Venezuela, and guess what? Mario Silva and Eva Gollinger, this pair who work as Hugo's propaganda puppets, had decided to call in Silva's shown "La Hojilla", for Housley's expulsion out of the country immediately for his journalist work.

Now, Venezuelans know that anything that comes from la Hojilla come directly from Chavez's top aides, if not from himself. So why the hurry to kick this journalist out? Are they oh so scare that Housley comes with something relevant, a possible incrimination link that they need to kick him out of the country ASAP? To me, this is unquestionable proofs that there are hiding something because they want to cover their asses. Well, not hiding anything so much any longer, since Chavez connection not only with the drug cartels but with all sorts of criminal organizations is a sotto voce secret. Everybody knows already. And, this is not only Housley coming with this, there are other very respectable sources that are linking Chavez with directly cooperating with the drug traffickers and other criminal organizations.

Like for example, Moises Naim's takes on the same topic here.

And also, a news that Quico posted from Spain's El Pais the other day in his blog, regarding the connection of the Chavista government of Venezuela with the FARC/ELN (the Colombian guerrillas) and his principal source of income, which is controlling the cocaine route.

I though it was worth it to post a translation of the latter, since it is very comprehensive into explaining how this FARC-Chavez-Drug trafficking connection works.

The Narco Sanctuary of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC),

by JOHN CARLIN 16/12/2007

The Colombian guerrillas of the FARC had found their sanctuary in Venezuela of Hugo Chavez. Four deserters and several sources of intelligence services and diplomats described to EL PAÍS the extensive and systematic cooperation that certain Venezuelan authorities provide to the FARC in their drug trafficking operations inside Venezuela.

Some drop out of Colombian guerrillas because they feel betrayed by their bosses, sunken into the perception that the savage capitalism of drug trafficking has supplanted socialist altruism that prompted them to take up arms. Others leave because they need to return to family life. And others because, suddenly, are convinced that, if not to flee, it will be to die, as is the case of Rafael, who defected in September after a year and a half operating in one of the bases of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) inside Venezuelan territory.

Rafael's logic is, prima facie, perverse. On the one hand because, as a guerrilla deserter who has returned to Colombia, he knows he will live the rest of his days under a constant murder threat from their former comrades; on the other hand, because the logic says that the FARC has found in neighboring Venezuela a safe haven. The FARC share the same ideology than Bolivarian President Hugo Chavez and the Colombian army won't venture into violate international law and crossing the border.

"All that is true," explained Rafael. "The Colombian army did not cross the border, and the guerrillas have a non-aggression pact with the Venezuelan military. Venezuelan Government leaves to the FARC to operate freely because they share the same Bolivarian thought, and also because the FARC paid bribes to its people" .

So what do you has fled from?

"From a far greater danger to which I face now: fighting almost daily in Venezuela with elenos [ELN guerrillas]."

But, wouldn't they both (FARC and ELN) share the same Marxist principles that led these two organizations went to war 40 years ago? "It may be," responds Rafael, "but this has nothing to do with politics anymore. Fighting with the ELN is only for the routes of trafficking cocaine. There is so much money at stake in this border area where the drug comes from Colombia. Because the safer line to carry drugs to Europe is from Venezuela."

EL PAÍS has spoken with Rafael, who campaigned as a guerrilla member for ten years, three of which were in jail, and then, all along with other three members, defected from the FARC and delivered themselves to the Colombian government, then were welcomed into a civilian life reintegration program. They also have direct access into Colombia and diplomatic sources and high level of intelligence and security services from several countries. These individuals whose dangerous mission (for this and in some cases for political reasons, insisted on anonymity before speaking to EL PAÍS), is to combat terrorism and international drug trafficking. Both objectives converge on the FARC more powerful than any other cartel in the global market for cocaine and classified by the EU and USA as a "terrorist organization".

What an European diplomatic assures, and various official sources to whom EL PAÍS had access to, is that there is complicity and empathy of important elements inside the State that Hugo Chavez's presides in the activities of the military mafia and oldest guerrilla organization in the world. La conclusión a la que un diplomático europeo y todas las fuentes oficiales consultadas han llegado es que la complicidad es activa y constante a niveles operativos, en las zonas donde se despliega la actividad militar y narcotraficante; y más pasiva cuanto más alta la esfera del Gobierno venezolano, hasta llegar al presidente Chávez, al que ninguna fuente consultada -ni siquiera en el anonimato más extremo- acusa de complicidad directa con el gigantesco negocio del narcotráfico colombiano. The conclusion that the European diplomatic and all the official sources consulted have reached is that there is active and continuous complicity in operational levels, in areas where it is deployed Venezuelan military and drug trafficker and more passive on the higher the field of Government (of Venezuela). None of the sources, even the ones with the highest level of anonymity were able to accuse Venezuelan President Chavez of direct complicity with the huge business of drug trafficking in Colombia. What those same sources cannot hardly believe it is that President Chavez is not aware of the extent of collusion that exists between its armed forces and senior commanders of the FARC. They also doubt that he is not aware of the degree of involvement from the FARC in cocaine trafficking.

EL PAÍS, despite its numerous attempts, failed to get-until Thursday night for the closing of this edition-a reaction from the Venezuelan authorities to the statements contained in this report.

We already knew that, for several years, the FARC had used the Venezuelan side of the Colombian border as a refuge. Few doubt that, if not for the cocaine-gasoline that fuels the war in Colombia, the FARC had been extinguished as other Latin American guerrillas who were born during the cold war. What is new is the revealing testimony gathered by this newspaper about the extensive and systematic cooperation from Venezuela's military with the narco-guerrilla, regarding the transport of drugs by air, land and sea; the supply of arms, protection over field received by sectors of the armed forces and the de facto legal immunity granted by elements of the Venezuelan State.

This is a huge illegal business. 30% of the 600 tons of cocaine that are moved annually by the world is transited through Venezuela. Almost all Colombian drugs leaving Venezuela are destined to Europe, with Spain and Portugal as the main entry ports, and with a market value for over 10,000 million Euros per year in the streets of Europe.

According to intelligence sources interviewed by EL PAÍS, during the last five years of the presidency of Hugo Chavez the Venezuelan infrastructure for the flow of cocaine has grown exponentially. Hugo Chavez decision to expel the American anti-drug agency (DEA) his country in 2005 was celebrated by both the FARC and its partners in the conventional drug cartels. In the words of Luis Hernando Gomez Bustamante, powerful Colombian drug capo in police's custody in his country since February, "Venezuela is the temple of drug trafficking."

"The Bolivarian, socialist, anti-imperialist country that Chavez pretens to create, is in the process of becoming a narco-state, just as the FARC have become a narco-guerrilla. Chavez might not understand it, but this phenomenon will corrode his country as a cancer."

As for the military aspect, or "terrorist", the FARC, which deserters interviewed argue that the Venezuelan authorities not only provide armed protection to at least four fixed guerrilla camps in their country (Venezuela), but also turned a blind eye to learning programs that operate within the camps for the manufacture of bombs. Rafael, -tall, fibrous, and serious in appearance, whose image corresponds to the image of classical Latin American guerrilla member- tells how he was trained in Venezuela to participate in a series of bombings in Bogota, the Colombian capital. The collaboration extends to the alleged sale of weapons by the armed forces to the FARC, to provide members of the guerrilla with Venezuelan identity cards, using false names, and to provide to the leaders of the FARC passports to enable them to travel to Cuba and Europe, and to let the FARC provide military training to the Bolivarian Liberation Forces. The FBL, also known as los boliches (the bowling alleys), are a guerrilla movement created by the Chavez government with the alleged purpose of defending the homeland in the event of invasion by the United States.

The most visible expression of international terrorism by the FARC has been the practice of abducting individuals with economic or political purposes, as is the case of the former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. Some of the intelligence sources that EL PAÍS interviewed said they have solid information that the FARC retained her in Venezuelan territory. Rafael, who said he was about to be appointed to an important command post just before deserting, he argued that early this year, and perhaps later, Betancourt was in a border Venezuelan town called Elorza, in the state of Apure, in the custody of Germán Briceño Suárez, alias Grannobles, a member of the general staff and chief of the FARC Front 10,under which Rafael operated. The logic is that Elorza, where according to intelligence sources, Grannobles have a large and protected by the National Guard luxurious estate, and known by the FARC guerrillas as Rancho Grande, is away from military conflict, which reduces the chances that Betancourt be killed in a clash, which would create a serious image problem for the FARC, since Betancourt is also a French citizen, and the president Nicolas Sarkozy has sought to secure his release.

Rafael, eloquent but not buffoon, acknowledged that he had not seen Betancourt, but fellow guerrillas had, he said, but not all sources consulted by EL PAÍS attended with the thesis that she was in Venezuela. As there was unanimity among the sources that Grannobles, whose extradition the United States is looking for drug trafficking and the killing of three Americans in 1999 on Venezuelan soil, handles the logistics of the narco-guerrilla in Venezuela. He is also the link for joint operations with cartel barons, one of which Raphael said to have led to a meeting at Rancho Grande.

Chavez contact with the FARC, intelligence sources said, is carried out through one of the seven top leaders of the FARC, Ivan Marquez, which also has a farm in Venezuela and who communicates with the president (Chavez) through contacts with senior Venezuelan intelligence. As a deserter from the FARC who had held the an important propaganda post in the organization explains, "The FARC share with Chavez three Bolivarian principles: the unity of Latin America, the anti-imperialist struggle and national sovereignty. The ideological match lead to convergence at the tactical level."

The tactical advantage stemming from achieving Bolivarian solidarity, according to the sources, has its best performance in relation to the multinational drug industry. There are different methods to send cocaine from Colombia to Europe, but they always have in common the collaboration by omission or commission from the Venezuelan authorities. The most direct route is by air. According to intelligence sources, it consists in sending planes from remote airfields runways in Colombia to Venezuela. Then, there are two options. One, the same plane leaves heading to Haiti or the Dominican Republic (a source mentioned that non authorized flights has increase from 3 to 15 since 2006), or drug is shifted to other aircraft who will flight directly to countries in West Africa, like Guinea-Bissau or Ghana, where they continue to Portugal by the sea or Galicia, the Spanish entry point of the European "Schengen" area.

"One of the guerrilla defectors interviewed by EL PAÍS, we will called him Marcelo, recounted the procedure for sending drugs in small amounts through individuals (mules) that carry their luggage on commercial aircraft. Marcelo defected in August after having been a year in a FARC Venezuelan camp in La Uvita, Apure State. Small, agile in his movements, and of orderly mind, Marcelo only campaigned with the FARC guerrillas for only 15 months, and his bosses quickly provided him with a Venezuelan identity card. With it, he would cross the border and pass into Venezuela smoothly.

"Once," he recalls, "I went to the Bogotá airport to pick up a PuertoRican and bring it to Venezuela. He crossed the border with me after agreeing on a price with the Venezuelan guards. I took him in a private car to Caracas and from there he traveled to Spain by plane with drugs in the suitcase. He arrived without problems. Pizarro, our commander with 120 men under his charge confirmed this to me, he spoke with his contact in Spain, which was called Dani."

Marcelo participated in "eight or nine" such missions over 12 months. "Operating in Venezuela is the easiest thing there," he says. "The guerrillas of the FARC are fully there, and the National Guard, the Army and other Venezuelan officials offer their services in exchange for money. There's never fighting between FARC and the Guard or the Army." Rafael says that he participated in various operations aimed at sending drugs by sea from Caribbean ports. His rank in the FARC was higher than that of Marcelo and had more access to confidential information.

"The "goods" are received at the border in trucks," explains Rafael. " "When the vehicle arrives, the Venezuelan National Guard already knows in advance, and are already bribed for the truck to cross to Venezuela smoothly. Sometimes they give us an escort. Then, I and other colleagues climb at the same truck with the driver, or drive along the truck in a particular car. We travel for 16 hours to Puerto Cabello, on the sea, west of Caracas. Therein enters the truck in a large warehouse controlled by Venezuelans and people from the FARC which are responsible for security. Then, troops of the Venezuelan Army deal with customs and the exit of vessels. They had knowledge of what was going on and facilitated everything. "

Sources of intelligence that explore exit routes in Puerto Cabello said that from there small boats with the drugs ship to Haiti or the Dominican Republic, and from there then the shipment is transferred to larger vessels that will carry them to Europe, or they ship directly across the ocean to Africa or to Europe in those small vessel, like for example, fishing boats. One notable case was that of the Venezuelan fishing vessel "Zeus X", which was intercepted by the Spanish Tax Agency in September, 1,050 miles from Las Palmas, Canary Islands, with six Venezuelans on board and a cargo of 3,200 kilos of cocaine with the sale price estimated in Europe of 190 million euros.

Rafael said that not only accompanied the trucks traveling between the border and the sea, but stayed once for over a month in Puerto Cabello, where he stayed in a hotel, doing work of "security". "There were losses of goods and theft. So we shot people. Many died, for robbery or treason." Rafael assures that he never had problems with the Venezuelan police, and less when making his trips back, loaded with money that usually came from Spain, from drug sales. "He carried big suitcases full of banknotes of 500 euros, and were delivered to a command of the FARC "Front 10" in the Venezuelan side of the border with Colombia."

The same procedure was carried out using the port of Maracaibo. According to the sources consulted by EL PAÍS, Maracaibo is "a kind of paradise" for drug traffickers, among them one of the most wanted drug barons by the international police, Wilber Varela, also known as "soap". "They buy magnificent houses, large farms and businesses in bankruptcy, and become valuable characters for local Venezuelan economies," said a police source. "Venezuela is for these criminals a life insurance policy." So that's the reason on why when the Colombian police ask their Venezuelan counterparts for the whereabouts of the mafia barons, the answer is always the same: "We have nothing."

This tactical convergence between the Venezuelan Armed Forces and the FARC prolongs to the military field, to the extent that today, a source of intelligence particularly well informed speaking to EL PAÍS mentions, the National Guard has placed roadblocks around the guerrilla camps. What for? "To give them protection, which indicates the very high-level of knowledge of the high ranked Venezuelan military about their soldiers' close collaboration with the FARC soldiers."

But things haven't always been that very clear. Another deserter from the FARC, under the pseudonym Humberto, recalled how, in January 2004, there was almost a serious clash between the Venezuelan Army and the Colombian guerrillas in a border region called La Guajira. According to Humberto, who undercovered for the FARC, operated politically in a major Colombian city for five years before joining the combatant status in 2005, the incident occurred on the sidelines of a meeting of revolutionary politics of several Latin American countries in a FARC camp in Venezuela. There were stationed about 150 guerrillas led by the ambassador of the FARC in Venezuela, Ivan Marquez. "Suddenly we heard an aerial bombardment near the camp and then we learned that a column of the Venezuelan Army was approaching," he says. "The troops arrived at the edge of the camp, but when it seemed there was going to be a clash, the commanders of both sides started talking and ended up drinking vodka together, celebrating the fact that the two were commanding "Bolivarians" armies."

Humberto, a former university student who had shone in his youth for his revolutionary fervor, defected in October this year in large part because he had seen such a festive scene, lubricated by alcohol, had come to define the lifestyle of some senior commanders of the FARC. "We, street guerrilla members, militiamen, suffered permanently because of lack of supplies. We walked all day and we were hungry. The problem ceased to be a military one and became one of basic survival. But, in the meantime we suffered so much, the experienced commanders not only ate well, but they also drank whiskey and slept with beautiful women. All of that was a huge disappointment."

Rafael did not appear to suffered such scruples since he failed to assess morale when he described his activities as a drug trafficker. To him, it was the same thing to comply with work directly linked to its original vocation as a guerrilla member, or to travel to Caracas to collect arms that the FARC bought to Venezuelan Armed Forces. This is one of the most systematic tactical dimensions of cooperation between Venezuela and the FARC.

Among other similar cases, Rafael recounted how he traveled by car, a Toyota Corolla, with a captain in the National Guard called Pedro Mendoza, to a large military base on the outskirts of Caracas called Fuerte Tiuna. He entered the base with the captain, who surrendered eight rifles to him. They returned to the border with the guns in the trunk of the car. According to Rafael, elements of the National Guard also provided to the FARC grenades, grenade launchers and C-4s used to make bombs.

An intelligence source confirmed that these small movements of arms occurr on a large scale. "What happens is that the drug flow is from Colombia to Venezuela, and the weapon flow come from Venezuela to Colombia. Shipments are not large, but there is a small but steady flow: 5,000 cartridges, six rifles ... It is very difficult to detect this networks because there are very small and well coordinated by specialists from the FARC."

Rafael operating directly with these specialists, both in arms and cocaine trafficking until he took the decision to change his life. The conviction that their fate was going to end came in August this year. "In June and July, I had received training in the manufacture of explosives, along with troops from the Chavez militias, the "bowling alleys" (los boliches) of the FBL. I learned there in a camp in Venezuela, how to assemble different types of "quiebrapatas" and "cazabobos" land mines, and also to assemble bombs with C-4 received from the National Guard. I was also taught how to detonate bombs in a controlled manner using cell phones." We were prepared, he said, for a mission in Bogotá. "They gave us photos of the targets. We were to operate with two groups of the FARC stationed in the capital. We were to make bombs. When the date approached I began to think that I could no longer continue. First, because of the danger of clashes with the "elenos" (members from the ELN), and now, because the real possibility of been caught -I already spent several years in prison because of my work with the FARC- or get killed by the security forces in Bogota. In late August I escaped, and in September, I turned myself in."

An European diplomat who knows the general situation of drug trafficking and the guerrillas in Colombia, which has heard testimony from Rafael, made a comparison between the activities of the FARC in Venezuela and an hypothetical similar activity by ETA in a neighbouring country of Spain. "Imagine that ETA had a bomb school in Portugal in camps protected by the Portuguese police, and had plans to detonate those bombs in Madrid. Imagine that the Portuguese authorities give arms to ETA, in exchange for money obtained through drug trafficking, activity that the Portuguese authorities know and support in collusion. It would be a scandal of enormous proportions. So this, on a large scale, is what the Government of Venezuela is allowing to happen today."

"The truth," explains a senior police, "is that if Venezuela made a minimal effort to collaborate with the international community, the difference would be huge. They could easily recover two more tons of cocaine per month with only a small twist by their part. They do not do it so because there is a lot of corruption, but also, of their anti-imperialist attitude. "If this fucks the imperialists', they think, 'How are we going to help them?'. The key is political will, and it does not exist."

A similar logic is extended, according to the highest source intelligence interviewed by EL PAÍS, the issue of abductees by the FARC. "If Chavez wanted, he could force the release of Betancourt tomorrow, regardless of whether she is in Venezuela or Colombia. He can said to the FARC: 'delivered her right now or the game ends here in Venezuela'. The reliance that the FARC have in Venezuela is so enormous that they could not be risking to tell Chavez no."

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