In September 2008, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) called out three high-ranking officials in the Hugo Chavez regime for supporting the drug-trafficking activities of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a narco-terrorist organization. Their assistance to FARC included: supplying the group with weapons and ammunition, granting Venezuelan citizenship to group members, preventing law enforcement from interfering with the group’s drug-trafficking operations, protecting a wanted Colombian terrorist in Venezuela, allowing the group to use Venezuelan territory for drug-trafficking and terrorist activities, and even partnering in drug trafficking. In other words, these men are guilty of violating international law several times over.
The three senior officials named were: Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios, at the time the director of Venezuela’s Military Intelligence Directorate (DGIM); Henry de Jesus Rangel Silva, at the time the director of Venezuela’s Directorate of Intelligence and Prevention Services (DISIP); and Ramon Emilio Rodriguez-Chacín, who was acting as Venezuela’s minister of interior and justice.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that in 2009 Venezuela was the main cocaine transit country in the Western Hemisphere. Today, Venezuela remains as relevant as ever in the cocaine-supply chain. So what became of the three OFAC-designated kingpins mentioned above? Were they questioned, investigated, or dismissed after OFAC’s announcement?
Not at all. In Bolivarian Venezuela, loyalty to the dying caudillo is all that matters, and the three kingpins and Chavez have a history. All three are members of the military; all three participated in the coup d’état led by Chavez in February 1992; all three were arrested and did time in jail as a consequence; all three were promoted within the military ranks and to important governmental roles once Chavez reached Venezuela’s presidency; and all three have been supported publicly by Chavez since OFAC’s announcement. So instead of demoting or dismissing them, Chavez gave them his full support and more power. Rangel-Silva was appointed as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rodriguez-Chacín was designated as Venezuela’s representative in multilateral talks with FARC. And Carvajal was kept in command of military intelligence.
There were regional elections in Venezuela last December. Chavez’s political party’s won 20 governorships out of the 23 possible; 11 of those 20 are controlled by people who were part of Chavez’s 1992 coup attempt. All Venezuelan states bordering with Colombia, except Amazonas, are controlled by either Chavez’s army brethren or, as in the case of Barinas state, his own family members. Hundreds of thousands of square miles of Venezuelan territory, a corridor of sorts from the Colombian border all the way to Caracas, is under the kingpins’ control. Rangel-Silva was elected as governor of Trujillo state. Rodriguez-Chacín was elected as governor of Guarico state. And Carvajal was promoted to chief of the National Office Against Terrorism and Organized Crime.
The actions of the Colombian government are crucial in all this. Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s president between 2002 and 2010, took a hard line against FARC and Chavez, but his successor, President Juan Manuel Santos, has not. One of President Santos’ first acts in office, in fact, was to meet Chavez in Santa Marta, after which he declared that they were best friends. President Santos was, of course, trying to get Chavez to pay Colombian companies the billions of dollars that his government owes them. But so far, Santos’ soft line hasn’t borne results — the terrorism has continued, as has the drug trafficking. Santos may come to regret his “friendship” with Chavez.
For his part, by promoting FARC’s partners and collaborators, Hugo Chavez is not only openly flaunting binding anti-terrorism resolutions from the United Nations Security Council, he is defying and making a mockery out of international agreements, while cloaking with a veneer of democratic legitimacy those engaged in protecting and assisting terrorists. Whether or not Chavez dies soon from the cancer that is ravaging his body, drug shipments from Venezuela will continue unabated. Designated kingpins have now been elected to public office, and will remain in power for another four years, at least. The kingpins will outlast Colombia’s President Santos. This is a worrying development, for it signals that OFAC designations and “friendships” carry little weight, and in practice do not hinder drug trafficking and terrorist activities.
Alek Boyd is the founder of Vcrisis.com, a blog about Venezuelan politics. In 2006, Alek became the first blogger ever to shadow a Venezuelan presidential candidate. Follow him on Twitter @alekboyd or email him at email@example.com.