World

Hugo Chavez was complicit in major drug trafficking scheme, ex bodyguard claims

A new book by a Spanish journalist casts even more light on the alleged connections between pro-Chávez Venezuelan officials and major drug traffickers in the South American nation.

In “Boomerang Chávez,” Emili J. Blasco, the Washington DC correspondent for Spanish news outlet ABC, writes about the alleged sponsorship of drug trafficking by government officials, which Blasco asserts started under the presidency of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.

Blasco’s sources most of his information from interviews with Leamsy Salazar, the former head of security for National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello and a former member of Chavez's security detail, who deserted from the military earlier this year and made statements to U.S. media about Cabello’s alleged drug trafficking ties.

In an instance in the book, Salazar describes a scene in 2007 at a farm near Venezuela’s border with Colombia where Chávez negotiated with FARC guerrilla leaders to trade drug shipments from them in exchange for weapons and military supplies.

Salazar said that after Chávez’s death, Cabello became the organizer of the Venezuelan government's drug trafficking and criminal activities. During one alleged mission, Salazar said he was present when Cabello inspected four go-fast boats that were loaded with several tons of cocaine and days later was present when a number of suitcases loaded with stacks of $100 dollar bills was delivered to Venezuela's tax agency, where Cabello had an office.

Cabello is the second most powerful figure in Venezuela's ruling party, after President Nicolás Maduro.

In Washington, William Brownfield, the State Department's top anti-narcotics official, said in January that 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 U.S. has long accused top Venezuelan political and military leaders of complicity in the drug trade. In July of last year, former 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.

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