CARACAS, Venezuela – A Venezuelan official confirmed on Tuesday that the former bodyguard of the head of congress has deserted from the socialist country's armed forces amid reports the man is in the United States to testify against his former boss.
Two Spanish-language newspapers reported Monday that the chief bodyguard of National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello has gone to the United States with information implicating him as head of a drug cartel made up of political and military officials.
On Tuesday, loyalist Venezuelan Congressman Pedro Carreno called the accusations "a new action by the reactionary right" that seeks to reverse Venezuela's socialist project.
He said Salazar "deserted from the armed forces in December and appeared in the United States as a protect witness to defame, slander and submit (Cabello) to public ridicule."
Cabello is the second most powerful figure in Venezuela's ruling party, after President Nicolas Maduro. The anonymously sourced stories were carried by ABC of Spain and the Miami-based El Nuevo Herald.
In Washington, William Brownfield, the State Department's top anti-narcotics official, said there is significant evidence that some members of the Venezuelan government have been corrupted by trafficking organizations and said the report naming bodyguard Leamsy Salazar "is not inconsistent with that narrative. That is as far as I am inclined to go."
He said he was neither confirming nor denying the report.
Cabello responded on Twitter, thanking people for their support at a time of "infamy and intrigue."
"Every attack against me strengthens my spirit and resolve," he said.
The top-trending Twitter topic in hyper-polarized Venezuela Tuesday afternoon was "total support for Diosdado," followed by "Diosdado drug trafficker."
The U.S. has long accused top Venezuelan political and military leaders of complicity in the drug trade. In July, former Venezuelan military intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal was arrested in Aruba on a U.S. warrant. Venezuela was ultimately able to use diplomatic wrangling to have him set free.
On Tuesday night, Maduro called the episode part of an imperialist plot.