Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Venezuela Judge Turns DEA Informant

A former Supreme Court judge in Venezuela is now in Washington D.C. cooperating with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), possibly sharing intelligence on high-ranking military and government officials involved in the drug trade.

Ex-judge Eladio Aponte, who left Venezuela for Costa Rica on April 2, was flown out of the Central American country Tuesday night on a DEA-chartered flight.

An unnamed source told El Nuevo Herald that Aponte is “providing detailed information on drug trafficking operations in Venezuela.” Aponte reportedly pointed the finger at General Henry Rangel Silva, the recently appointed Minister of Defense whom the US Department of Treasury says has worked with Colombian rebel group the FARC in trafficking drugs. Aponte also reportedly said that one of President Hugo Chavez’s closest allies, Diosdado Cabello, recently named the head of the ruling party, also has links to the drug trade. Aponte also named General Cliver Alcala, another military official sanctioned by the US for allegedly establishing a drugs-for-guns trade with the FARC.

One question is how reliable Aponte’s allegations may be, or whether he has a political ax to grind. Aponte was removed in office on March 20, after evidence emerged that he helped Venezuelan drug trafficker Walid Makled secure official documents needed to run Makled’s businesses. Notably, Aponte was once in charge of assigning judges in Venezuela’s border states with Colombia, where many of the main cocaine-trafficking routes are found.

If Aponte is now in the US collaborating with the DEA, this may have been the exact outcome that some Venezuelan officials arguably wanted to avoid with Makled. After Makled’s arrest in 2011, he spoke openly about the involvement of the security forces and part of the political establishment in drug trafficking, claiming to possess compromising videos that showed members of the Chavez government involved in drug deals. When the Colombian government chose to extradite Makled to Venezuela instead of the US, where he is also wanted on drug charges, it may have been a significant political win for those officials who wanted to avoid having Makled’s intelligence fall in US hands.

Opposition politician Juliio Montoya told El Nuevo Herald that Aponte, Makled, and others in the military and political establishment created a drug cartel that rivals the power of Colombia’s Medellin Cartel. But even as Aponte has proved willing to collaborate the DEA, the challenge will be deciphering whether his charges are fully accurate, or whether he is playing a larger political game.

News Briefs

  • Haiti’s President Michel Martelly was diagnosed with a blood clot in the lung, possibly the cause of the chest pains which prevented him from attending last weekend’s Summit of the Americas, reports the AP. While receiving treatment in a Miami hospital, several dozen former soldiers and other gunmen stormed Haiti’s parliament, stating that they were opposed to the government’s plan to shut down their illicit training camps. According to the Miami Herald, the ex-soldiers arrived in busloads and many were armed.
  • 14 dismembered bodies were found in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, reports the LA Times. Authorities said that the victims either belonged to the Zetas or the Gulf Cartel, groups that have traditionally battled for control of the city, reports Milenio. The deaths could be related to the Sinaloa Cartel’s reported attempt to establish a foothold in Nuevo Laredo, as signaled by a banner discovered a few weeks ago, which hinted at the Sinaloans’ intentions to fight the Zetas for dominance in the area.
  • A new poll shows Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate Enrique Peña Nieto with an approximate 20 percent lead over his rival, National Action Party (PAN) candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota. The poll has Peña Nieto leading with 40 percent support, reports Reuters.
  • The Council on Foreign Relations considers a poll that states 80 percent of Mexicans are poor, observing that this number consists of the 52 million Mexicans which the government officially considers below the poverty line, added to the 40 million citizens which the government census considers “vulnerable to becoming poor.”
  • InSight Crime debunks reports that the Zetas have established an alliance with the Mara Salvatrucha street gang in Guatemala.
  • Reuters on how President Hugo Chavez’s health struggles may be affecting his political campaign, noting that the president has kept on a heavy workload even while flying back and forth between Cuba and Venezuela for treatment. One analyst summaries the dilemma succinctly: "He needs to be the strong Chavez like always, leading his followers in the street with his enthusiasm and charisma. But he also needs to take care of himself because the election is not just for one day, it's for six years.”
  • Bolivia made five arrests in connection to the deaths of two journalists in El Alto, one of the most violent suburbs in La Paz. The two were strangled to death in February in an assault believed to be connected to street crime, not their journalistic work.
  • Colombian newspaper El Espectador reports that one of the leaders of Colombia’s most powerful new generation criminal gangs, the Rastrojos, turned himself in to US authorities Tuesday night. The brothers who lead the Rastrojos, Javier Antonio Calle Serna (who reportedly turned himself in) and Luis Enrique, have been in negotiations with US authorities, including the DEA, for months.
  • The New York Times on the ongoing investigation into misconduct by US Secret Service agents in Cartagena during last weekend’s Summit. The Times says that investigators have already established the identities of the prostitutes whom as many as 11 US agents took back to their hotel, as the women were required to leave their IDs at the hotel desk. Prostitution is legal in Cartagena, and the Times visits a couple of expensive bordellos where the agents may have met the women, and talks to several female escorts who “say all the international attention might be good for business. They shrug their shoulders at all the fuss.” The mayor of Cartagena and other city officials echo a similar view in an AP interview. The article notes that prostitution comes in many forms in Cartagena, from expensive escort services to child prostitution. The city is a such a magnet for the sex trade that “Prostitutes are even bused in from elsewhere in Colombia for conventions that attract large groups of foreigners.”

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