CARACAS – A defiant Diosdado Cabello, Venezuela’s powerful National Assembly President who is allegedly under investigation for turning the country into a drug-smuggling corridor, adamantly denied the allegations on Tuesday.
In his first appearance before the National Assembly, Cabello said the report in the Wall Street Journal claiming he was under investigation by U.S. federal investigators for his role in a drug cartel enterprise was “a ploy” by Venezuela’s opposition leaders.
"They have failed at everything and this will fail, too. I won't surrender,” he said.
Cabello challenged those who accuse him to present their proof.
"Those who today accuse me today of drug trafficking should present a single piece of evidence, just one," he said to cheers of support from his colleagues.
His comments came after The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. officials are investigating Cabello and other members of the country's socialist administration for trafficking cocaine and money laundering.
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The Journal's story built on reports from earlier this year that Cabello's bodyguard had defected to the U.S. and was fingering his former boss as the head of a drug ring led by Venezuelan political and military officials.
Cabello is now suing several of the news outlets that published reports about the bodyguard's claims and also has brought individual criminal charges against the heads of those organizations. Many Venezuelan outlets carried stories Tuesday on the Journal's report, but they wrapped the findings in layers of sometimes tortured attribution in an apparent attempt to hold off further legal entanglements.
Venezuela’s second most powerful politician – behind President Nicolas Maduro – said he’s innocent because that’s simply not in his character.
"We would never get involved in anything to hurt our youth," he said.
Other pro-government lawmakers lashed out at the allegations against Cabello, calling the allegations “rubbish.”
"Diosdado Cabello is a hero of the fatherland," said Deputy National Assembly Speaker Tania Díaz.
But opposition leaders called for an investigation into the allegations.
"These are grave accusations which suggest that our country has become a bridge for drug trafficking," said Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost the 2013 presidential election to Maduro.
Includes reporting by The Associated Press.
Carlos Camacho is a freelance writer based in Caracas. You can follow him @carloselpana.