Cashing in on his authority, the former chief of the Venezuelan military intelligence services joined efforts for over one decade with drug traffickers under the aegis of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. This investigation by ITEMP reveals the identity of partners and allies with Hugo Carvajal, aka “El Pollo,” acting as the shield bearer in a jungle of unlawfulness for many criminals to enjoy safe havens in Venezuela
Guerrilla members felt extremely grateful to General Hugo “El Pollo” Carvajal, to such an extent that they entered into a lengthy discussion, wondering what could be the best treat for such a puissant man in Venezuela.
As the director of Venezuelan military intelligence services, he could get whatever he wished without any problem –jewels, cash, a luxury car, an artwork, a designer watch– the insurgents thought.
At long last, in April 2006, the members of the Tenth Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) delivered to Fuerte Tiuna, a military compound located in southwest Caracas, a peculiar gift for Carvajal –a thoroughbred that could stay safe at the fortress stud, available to the general whenever he felt like riding.
“It was one of its kind, a real thoroughbred. I myself brought it in Fuerte Tiuna. We don’t know what name he gave to it, or whether he liked it or not, yet he received it,” said from a freezing visit room inside a US federal prison one of the insurgents involved in that token of courtesy and who was for some years under the direct protection of the Venezuelan influential officer.
“I witnessed in (the state of) Apure, near Capanaparo river in 2007, how Carvajal framed an operation to prosecute and put in jail a general opposed to (late Venezuelan President Hugo) Chávez,” the former guerrilla member recalled during a talk.
According to an indictment from the District Court for the Southern District of Florida, unsealed in 2011, Carvajal made provision for drug trafficking operations of at least a dozen of kingpins seeking shelter in Venezuela in 2004-2011, the period of time of his incumbency as the military intelligence chief.
US public prosecutors maintain that the former officer, at least since 1999, protected Colombian and Mexican cocaine traffickers through a military cadre, which happened to be euphemistically called the “Cartel of Suns.”
Yesid Ríos Suárez, aka “El Enano,” a seasoned FARC drug provider, presumably enjoyed Carvajal’s direct protection for at least six years, while he moved from the industrial city of Valencia, north Venezuela, to the state of Apure, of the flatlands on the Venezuelan-Colombian border.
From Apure, “El Enano” traveled to supervise cocaine manufacturing in underground laboratories operating in the Colombian department of Arauca, for its subsequent transportation to Venezuelan lands, as recounted by one of his former partners, currently detained in a prison of Alabama.
From this state in Venezuelan flatlands, by using small planes and clandestine airstrips, Ríos Suárez was a major cocaine provider on behalf of FARC, particularly of Noé Suárez Rojas, aka “Germán Suárez Briceño,” aka “Grannobles,” a veteran member of the guerrilla staff.
On September 19, 2011, the year when the Venezuelan government resolved to turn in about twenty kingpins that had sought refuge in Venezuela, “El Enano” was deported from Caracas to Bogotá under an international warrant of arrest, on charges of drug trafficking.
Three years later, in January 2014, the Colombian government granted a requisition for extradition of Ríos to the United States, where a New York court requested him on charges of cocaine trafficking.
“Go ahead and ask Carvajal what Yesid Ríos was doing at his place and his sailboat in Margarita, on the island yacht dock. Why did he protect him over there? Too many things are crystal-clear! He provided him with documents, cars, escorts, everything,” advised a major Colombian drug trafficker who became a key witness in the United States indictment of the General and some other Venezuelan high-ranking military officers.
The Colombian drug lord who kept his operational headquarters in Venezuela for eight years admitted that Carvajal protected his operations with direct custody, including bodyguards and Venezuelan identity documents. His narrative forms part of a series of interviews via e-mail from the prison where he is serving a sentence.
In order to back up his allegations, the kingpin, who preferred not to be identified by name, said that during his hearings he delivered to US public prosecutors essential evidence, including a list of Venezuelan officers at his service and their remuneration, in addition to substantial information about the ex-Venezuela’s military intelligence chief.
The list includes, but it is not limited to, six military officers with the rank of General who held strategic security positions under Hugo Chávez’s government and occupying thus far different positions under Nicolás Maduro’s administration.
“What my client told me in relation to the services rendered by Carvajal is demonstrably true and was very useful for the public prosecutors to file additional charges,” said the counsel for the defense of the drug lord in an interview in Miami with ITEMP.
The Colombian drug trafficker’s deposition is consistent with the statements of Ríos Suárez, also convicted by a New York court. As testified by Ríos Suárez, in exchange for a fee in US dollars, Carvajal offered “El Enano” protection in the middle of the roaring combat against the guerrillas by the government of then Colombian President Álvaro Uribe as from 2002.
“When, in Venezuela, we were notified of the deportation to Colombia and, next, surely to the United States, I reached General Carvajal at his cell phone. He answered and I queried, ‘What happened?’ to find whether he could help us. He responded that was already beyond his control and hung up,” the operator recounted.
Clue after clue
A key witness for New York public prosecutors in assembling Carvajal’s case was Colombian Yon Garzón Garzón, a militiaman at the service of the Colombian intelligence unit who successfully infiltrated into the FARC and worked for “El Enano.”
Garzón Garzón seemingly attended a meeting held in October 2002 on the border of the state of Apure in Venezuela and the department of Arauca in Colombia. There, the delivery of weapons and the custody of cocaine shipments under the auspices of “El Pollo” was discussed. Garzón Garzón was interviewed for this investigation in April 2019.
The witness’ itemized reconstruction highlights the role played by the Chavista General. The events are depicted in file 499-2002 accessed by ITEMP through the counsel for the defense in a case of drug trafficking with the name of Carvajal reverberating in a Colombian court, where Garzón Garzón testified as witness.
Assuredly, the Colombian government was cognizant of the criminal background of Chávez’s confidant long before his promotion as the director of the Venezuelan military intelligence services. Nonetheless, a review of the court public records in Colombia found that all these years the Office of the Attorney General of Colombia never opened a criminal case against Carvajal.
Yon Pelayo Garzón became a protected witness by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Office of the New York State Attorney General in multiple cases as from 2011, including those against “El Enano” and Carvajal, as certified in the court records, some of them sealed.
Yesid Ríos Suárez, aka “El Enano,” was a strategic piece for the United States, particularly for the District Court for the Southern District of New York, which prosecuted him on charges of drug dealing at the service of FARC.
In June 2014, “El Enano” was sentenced to 54 years in prison for his role played in running backdoor cocaine laboratories in Colombia, with the United States as the primary target market. Ríos Suárez never responded to multiple requests for an interview in relation to this story.
During his eight-year office as President of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe never spoke with his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chávez, of the reported felony perpetrated by the Venezuelan military spy chief on behalf of Colombian guerrillas and drug dealers. Or, as far as he can remember for that matter.
“I apprised Chávez of the camps held by the FARC in Venezuela, but he denied their existence in his country. Later on, he argued that he could not chase them in order not to disturb the peace of Colombia,” ex-President Uribe told ITEMP.
As regards Carvajal, “I cannot remember particularly having spoken with Chávez at any time. I have not such a memory present,” Uribe granted. His war to death against the guerrillas compelled the FARC to conduct peace negotiations for some years and make a deal until its full dissolution in 2016.
Playing with secrets
General Carvajal landed on Madrid on March 18, 2019 onboard a secret flight from the Dominican Republic after breaking up with the Maduro’s regime in February 2021 and publicly recognizing the Speaker of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as the interim President of Venezuela.
A senior representative of Guaidó noted the “uncomfortable and compromising” position those days when Carvajal voiced his support of the opposition leader in the struggle against Maduro.
“We somewhat needed a person able to produce a crack within Maduro’s ranks. Carvajal was a key man, but his past and criminal background made us take our distance and abstain from jumping in his defense,” the official admitted, asking not to be named for lacking authorization to make any related comments.
On April 12, 2019 in Madrid, the Spanish police arrested Carvajal after an Interpol red notice requested by the United States.
Spain’s National High Court denied Carvajal’s extradition five months later on the basis that the US Department of Justice was requesting him “for political reasons.”
Later, on November 8, 2019, the National High Court changed its mind and ordered the extradition of the Chavista General to face trial on charges of drug trafficking.
Following news leak of his extradition two weeks in advance, Carvajal fled from his home in the outskirts of Madrid. His whereabouts is unknown.
One week earlier, Carvajal had received a questionnaire with a dozen questions related to this press investigation. Notwithstanding, under such circumstances, he never answered.
Closing all choices, the Spanish Government through the Council of Ministers, as established by law, approved on March 3, 2020 the surrender to the United States of the former government official once located.
“El Pollo” Carvajal not only carried a tremendous political clout, but he also exerted a strong financial influence to his own benefit, according to three persons familiar with him and the “recipients of his services” in Venezuela.
When digging in his past actions, mountains of secrets emerge, not only of himself, but also of the persons monitored by him, and he used that as print currency to shield himself.
A cocaine lord detained in Venezuela and extradited from Colombia to the United States told ITEMP that, for his personal security and the security of his airstrips in the state of Apure, he defrayed “thousands of dollars to the General, monthly, although that was contingent on the shipment.”
One of the drug traffickers told DEA that he made regular payments to Carvajal in the amount of US$ 50,000, on account of security of his routes. He also referred to the “Pretorian guard” composed of army officers and politicians of the Venezuelan Government who acted as middlepersons in the deal.
Carvajal maintained a close business relationship with drug trafficker Luis Frank Tello Candelo, aka “Negro Frank,” captured in Caracas on June 24, 2010 and extradited to the United States, said four sources abreast of the operations, recently unveiled.
Because of his connection with the powerful Colombian cartel “Oficina de Envigado” and “Los Zetas” of Mexico, “Negro Frank” was among the major beneficiaries from the supply of information concerning the links of the Venezuelan Government with drug trafficking.
The public prosecutors of New York and Miami, where the charges against the Chavista General are kept on file, confirmed that Tello Candelo counted on Vasily Kotosky Villarroel, aka “El Potro,” former captain of the Venezuelan National Guard, to manage the airports in Margarita Island and in the cities of Puerto La Cruz and Barcelona, northeast Venezuela.
Kotosky Villarroel, requested by DEA since 2013 for being the strongman in drug operations for years, was detained in June 2015 by Venezuelan authorities and faced trial in Venezuela.
“El Potro worked hand in hand with Carvajal, and the General gave assistance in the Puerto La Cruz route, his area of biggest influence,” a prominent Mexican drug dealer told public prosecutors of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Incidentally, he gave ITEMP the route particulars.
Kotosky Villarroel formed a business relationship with “Negro Frank” while the drug trafficker maintained his operational network in Venezuela, according to a paper furnished to a court, which describes, among others, the role played by the Venezuelan National Guard officer as a shield bearer in the drug dealing.
Tello Candelo boasted among his partners of having Carvajal in payroll, dispensing him large amounts of money, according to the testimony given to New York public prosecutors by a former partner of the Colombian-Venezuelan drug dealer interviewed by ITEMP.
“Before a highly valuable operation to be conducted in Venezuela in February 2006, the Sinaloa Cartel forwarded ‘Negro Frank’ one million dollars, presumably to woo Carvajal,” related for the first time Tello Candelo’s former partner, convicted in the United States.
However, the messenger of Sinaloa Cartel could never corroborate the effective delivery of the money or if it was actually for Carvajal. At the end of the day, the General never showed up in that meeting attended by him and Tello Candelo in a restaurant located east Caracas.
“Someone arrived pretending to be him and, since I did not know him, I did not find out the truth but some weeks later.”
“That day all that I knew was that we would meet with a good contact to move the business. Then, I knew his name was Hugo Carvajal, but physically he was not the person who got the money. Therefore, I cannot affirm that he was the messenger,” the drug trafficker said in an interview.
Public prosecutors learned from the star witness that Division General Francisco Paz Fleitas, twice president of the Civil Aeronautics National Institute (INAC) of Venezuela, for several years eased the way for various Mexican and Colombian cartels to transfer cocaine from and to Venezuela.
“Paz Fleitas was in our payroll, undoubtedly,” conceded the drug trafficker for the first time. He also described some of the operations where the Venezuelan Aviation General accepted bribes in US dollars from Sinaloa Cartel envoys.
ITEMP could not verify or contrast the versions of three alleged operations in 2005-2006, involving Paz Fleitas.
“Any, day or night-time, route was controlled by Paz Fleitas. We used aircraft for domestic flights in Venezuela and for some shipments abroad, some for Africa, South America… With him everything went smoothly, but we paid him good money,” the drug lord said, preferring not to be identified by name. The discussions about the case are confidential and sealed.
According to the witness, General Paz Fleitas worked in tandem with the almighty Tareck El Aissami, then Minister of the Interior and Justice, to tune up the drug dealing, including the purchase of some airplanes required by drug traffickers.
“Surely, Tareck and Plaz Fleitas were hand in glove,” the drug trafficker reasoned during his interview with ITEMP. He claimed to be in possession of the license plates of some aircraft purchased by the Venezuelan General, as well as the names of persons involved in those activities. ITEMP could not verify independently the reported documents.
El Aissami, former Vice President of Venezuela and former Minister of Industries and Domestic Production under Maduro’s regime, was accused by a New York federal court of money laundering linked to the drug business. In July 2019, he joined the Most Wanted List issued by the United States.
ITEMP examined a writ of review dated November 2017, of about one hundred pages, to corroborate the assertions against Paz Fleitas. The name of the General appears there as a collaborator of the drug operations run by several Mexican and Colombian cartels.
The General was INAC president twice –first time in 2005 and second time in 2011-2013. He carved a career in the Venezuelan civil aviation for at least two decades, and that explains his power and influence in such a strategic sector for drug cartels.
The former government official did not respond to the requests for comments on the allegations, via LinkedIn. Two persons who worked with him in the past informed that he was abroad.
From the cobweb at the service of drug traffickers making deals with Carvajal’s assistance emerges a prominent drug lord, serving sentence in a Delaware prison. During an interview, he fingered the retired chief of the Scientific, Criminal and Forensic Investigation Agency (CICPC), Miguel Ibarreto, for his involvement in cocaine trafficking for quite a few years.
As per the findings of ITEMP, in 2012-2013 the public prosecutors of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida, where the allegations of this important drug lord are kept, learned that Ibarreto presumably assisted a heavy-duty criminal organization in sea and air routes from Venezuela to Mexico and Ecuador, as well as in drug shipments to Africa.
Three prominent drug traffickers imprisoned in the United States admitted in different interviews with ITEMP that the former drug czar at CICPC came to their aid in several operations.
One of such operations took place in May 2008, in Valencia, a city located in central Venezuela. Then, Ibarreto, in tandem with some officers of the political police and with CICPC at his service, interdicted a shipment of about 500 kilos of cocaine onboard two vans from the border state of Táchira.
“In order to recover the shipment, it took us three days to amass one million dollars in cash, as requested by the police agents. We finally made the payment in a Caracas mall. I personally handed over the cash to Ibarreto,” said one of the Colombian drug traffickers via e-mail.
“Ibarreto was a high-level kingpin in Venezuela and it was not a secret inside the police,” he added.
The name of police commissioner Ibarreto is full of legends and facts that end up blemishing him to reveal a sinister character in the circles of the corrupted law enforcement agencies in the South American nation.
One of his former colleagues in the counternarcotic division conceded that many a time the ex-police commissioner was reprimanded after alleged claims of sidetracking drug shipments just to claim kickbacks from the owners.
“Ibarreto is a superb horse gambler; he earned a tremendous amount of money with it. There was no way of warranting his lifestyle, his luxuries, with a police agent’s salary. All of us were aware of his relationship with traffickers, but he exerted extreme influence with the chiefs,” said an ex-colleague, who asked not to be named.
In July 2019, Venezuelan newspapers reported that police commissioner Ibarreto, along with four military officers and a former police agent, had been accused in a military court of involvement in an alleged plot to assassinate Nicolás Maduro and several aides.
To date, the defendants remain in Venezuelan prisons, as well as the mystery surrounding Miguel Ibarreto.
At least one dozen of Colombian drug dealers, guerrilla members, parties to money laundering and operators indulged by Army General Carvajal Barrios remain in prisons of Florida, New York, Louisiana, Delaware, and many others sites throughout the immense US geography.
In 2004-2011 and 2013-2014, the General and National Assembly Deputy acted as director of the Venezuelan Military Intelligence Division (DIM), nowadays Directorate General of Military Counter-intelligence (DGCIM).
From the beginning of the Bolivarian revolution in 1999, first under Hugo Chávez and later on, in the first year of Nicolás Maduro as Venezuelan President, “El Pollo,” nicknamed as such since his early life as a student at the Military Academy, was in the underworld of spying and counter-intelligence.
Venezuelan priest José de Jesús Palmar warned for many years against drug trafficking interference in Venezuelan armed forces. In August 2007, he produced evidence against Carvajal at the Office of the Attorney General.
“On August 7, 2007, we provided Venezuelan public prosecutors with lot of materials, including pieces of evidence, to prove Carvajal relationship with drug dealers,” Palmar recalled.
“Whether public prosecutors never saw anything against Hugo Carvajal, that was because the files were removed or simply hidden, but denying the existence of evidence is ludicrous,” the priest and journalist reasoned.
From Sancta Sanctorum
A DEA report on Carvajal unveiled that someone with the upper hand in the intelligence apparatus acted as an attendant of organized crime and guerrillas virtually as part of his incumbency.
The access by ITEMP to such report was a unique opportunity to learn about Carvajal’s meetings with representatives of Chávez’s government –with and without the late president’s participation– to frame drug trafficking operations and FARC support. The document also describes the sites where these meetings took place, the participants and their roles, and even the narrative of witnesses who eventually collaborated with DEA as part of its crusade against the big fish of Chavezism.
The materials spell out that Chávez was the true mastermind of the so-called Cartel of Suns, and the abetting of his close aides –Diosdado Cabello or Tareck El Aissami, to name a few– in a criminal enterprise to retain power. On March 26, 2020, the US Department of State offered a reward for ten million dollars for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Cabello, the second-in-command of Chavezism, and Minister El Aissami, accused of rendering services to drug traffickers.
The Cartel of Suns is the term used to describe a gang of Venezuelan army and security officers engaged in drug trafficking. Although lacking a hierarchy similar to Mexican or Colombian drug cartels, it is a baseline concerning the links of Venezuelan military officers with drug traffickers.
On multiple occasions during the ITEMP investigation, the narratives of drug dealers and witnesses were consistent as to the events and characters, in sort of connecting thread involving Carvajal, his subordinates and superiors in illicit activities.
“Venezuela continues to be a major drug transit country and is one of the preferred trafficking routes for cocaine in the Western Hemisphere. Public corruption is a major problem in Venezuela, making it easier for drug trafficking organizations to smuggle illegal drugs,” said a spokesperson of the US Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, queried about the Venezuelan situation in this regard.
From the President’s Office
At Miraflores presidential palace, if not everything, at least something must be known about each of the leading drug traffickers or guerrilla members that sought refuge in Venezuela in the last decade. As a matter of fact, operations, routes, shipments and political support for drug transfers were laid down in Venezuela with the blessing of the “President Commander” and a bunch of his allies, according to the DEA report.
“During the meeting, Chávez urged the attendees to bring forward their political goals, including ‘flooding’ the United States with cocaine. Chávez ordered Carvajal, Cabello, Rangel Silva and others to join efforts with the FARC, and he entrusted Witness 1, among others, with the task of preventing the interference of law enforcement agencies. Afterwards, Witness 1 learned that this group held monthly meetings and he attended about four of them.”
Three weeks passed since that meeting in Miraflores presidential palace. Then, “a similar group, including Carvajal, was convened to the residence of then Vice President José Vicente Rangel (2002-2007). During the rendezvous, Cabello described the land and sea routes of drug trafficking across Venezuela. For his part, Carvajal noted that Colombian ‘guerrillas,’ that is, the FARC, would supply the cocaine.”
Cabello, the strongman in Venezuela besides Maduro, declined the requests for comments on this piece of information. In any case, he has consistently denied for years the charges of drug trafficking from the US Government against him.
“One month later, during another meeting in the same residence of José Vicente Rangel –the dossier indicates– Carvajal advised the participants that the coordination with the comrades was running smoothly and that he had met with FARC leaders in Venezuela. Later on, Carvajal commented Witness 1 that he had discussed with guerrilla members the distribution of earnings from the illicit drugs and the supply of weapons for valuable consideration.”
Witness 1 is not identified by name. However, based on the description provided by the DEA, two Venezuelan security experts abreast of the investigation conducted by ITEMP lay a wager on Eladio Aponte Aponte. In March 2012, the former judge of the Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice fled Venezuela. Once in the United States, he filed serious charges linking Venezuelan senior government officials to drug traffickers and unveiled Chávez’s manipulation of the judiciary.
Chávez supporters fingered Colonel Aponte Aponte, former military public prosecutor and former chair of the Criminal Cassation Chamber at the Supreme Court of Justice, for his alleged ties with Walid Makled. Incidentally, the Venezuelan kingpin revealed that the judge had been at his service.
From Ramp 4 to Campeche
If DEA agents took interest in the alleged meetings of Carvajal with Chávez or Cabello to coordinate transshipments of drugs from the FARC, what Aponte Aponte witnessed would be the heel of Achilles in the charges made in New York against “El Pollo.”
In April 2006, in the middle of an election year with Chávez seeking reelection, “Carvajal advised Witness 1 (Aponte Aponte) to be on the alert for an operation to be carried soon on Ramp 4 at Simón Bolívar international airport, nearby Caracas.
In this way, “Witness 1 realized that Carvajal was ordering him to keep a watchful eye on any interference from law enforcement agencies in a cocaine shipment that turned out to be a 5.6 ton cache eventually seized in Mexico.”
The “Air Cocaine” plane departing from the presidential ramp in Maiquetía international airport has been the biggest scandal over drug trafficking in Venezuela in the past few years.
The affair involved the use of the Venezuelan president own air terminal, supposed to be under the custody of military officers, for transportation of illicit drugs by international cartels.
“The transfer of 5,600 kilograms of cocaine –the DEA dossier quotes– was carried out onboard a DC-9 aircraft in April 2006, from Venezuela to the Mexican city of Toluca. However, it was forced to land on Campeche, Mexico, due to malfunction. When the aircraft touched down, the Mexican police seized the cocaine and arrested the two pilots.”
“Following the seizure of the drug, Carvajal advised Witness 1 to be on the lookout to prevent law enforcement agencies from linking the cocaine shipment with him and some other persons,” the report cites.
The story of the aircraft loaded with five tons of illicit drugs looks like the screening of a blurry film owing to some inconsistencies between the reports and testimonies that put the blame on Carvajal and the first-hand information supplied by the witness. Such was the finding after a review by ITEMP of 450 sheets of documents, some of them in relation to the operation.
Since 2006, the year of the failed scheme with the drug plane, General Carvajal was the only accused publicly by the DEA of collaboration with the huge operation.
There are no records all these 14 years involving any other Venezuelan government or military officers in such a sizeable operation.
The briefs prepared by Ismael Oliver, former counsel for the defense of “El Pollo,” and submitted to the Spanish National High Court revealed essential information able to cause a “court schism” in the United States should the Department of Justice review this case in a potential lawsuit against the General.
Oliver furnished Spanish judges an unknown version thus far. It is the testimony of Mexican Captain Fernando Blengio, the owner of the DC-9 aircraft and the shipment involving Carvajal.
“The airplane and the carried drugs were of my own and I never met Carvajal,” Benglio confessed according to one of the documents submitted by the attorney of “El Pollo” to the Spanish National High Court and accessed by ITEMP. Blengio remains in a jail in the United States on charges of drug trafficking, amidst a series of appeals concerning his legal status.
Blengio presented Carvajal’s defense lawyer with the legal grounds expounded by him during the hearings to show cause in US courts all these years in connection with the drug plane, but to no avail. The Department of Justice and public prosecutors have ignored his pleads and obstructed the proceeding.
There are inconsistencies even in the number of tons recorded following the seizure in Mexico and the DEA reports, Blengio told ITEMP in an interview.
“To begin with, there were not 5.6 tons of cocaine carried that evening in the DC-9, but 5.1 tons, which drastically changes even the value of the seizure. US public prosecutors are aware of it, but they never mind to correct that information,” he argued.
“I coordinated all that, and Carvajal wasn’t there,” affirmed the Mexican pilot, for years acting as coordinator of the operations for Mexican and Colombian cartels.
“Carvajal has nothing to do with the issue of the aircraft. Indeed, my legal battle has been clear about presumed detained witnesses here that lied on specific cases, not only the case of that guy, but also the cases of other non-Venezuelan persons. The courts are aware of it and public prosecutors too. The evidence is over there,” Blengio added from his prison cell.
Nicole Navas, spokesperson of the Department of Justice, declined to make comments on Carvajal’s case file and extradition, particularly on the pleadings of the Mexican pilot. The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York did not respond on time a request for information.
At least in respect of the drug plane, Blengio’s testimony threatens to change dramatically the charges made against the Chavista General in a potential trial, whatever Carvajal’s decision to clarify the affair.
Apart from the Gordian knot in the story of the drug plane, the role played by Witness 1 –or Eladio Aponte Aponte for that matter– was useful to give legal grounds to Carvajal’s alleged malfeasance, always with Chávez’s blessing.
The pleadings of former judge Aponte Aponte at the DEA show that in 2005-2010, Carvajal contacted him on a regular basis to help FARC members in legal troubles in Venezuela. “El Pollo” always made known to Witness 1 that “as instructed by President Chávez, the FARC should not be held accountable” in court-related matters.
Carvajal’s presumed aid to Yesid Ríos Suárez was a manifest sample of such reality.
The desertion from military service and escape to the United States of Venezuelan Army Lieutenant Leamsy Salazar Villasaña has been constant breaking news since 2015 in Latin America mass media and public opinion. At that time, it signified the biggest breaking-off of an active high-ranking military officer at the service of Chávez and Cabello.
A member of the military staff, the Navy officer formed part of Chávez’s escort. For ten years, he was the chief of the president’s security corps and his personal aide. After Chávez’s death, Salazar happened to be at the service of Diosdado Cabello, precisely when Cabello was the president of the National Assembly.
Salazar was for Chávez a hero of his revolution, the very President said, lavish in praise, one afternoon on TV. On April 13, 2002, Salazar took part in the liberation of Miraflores presidential palace in the middle of a coup attempt that ousted Chávez for 72 hours.
The DEA report confirms now the role played by Salazar in the delivery of information on Carvajal, Cabello and the Cartel of the Suns, since 2015, when he arrived in Washington under the witness protection program.
“Another witness against Carvajal was a member of the Venezuelan Army appointed as security officer for Chávez in 2008-2013, and for Cabello in 2013-2014, when he was the president of the National Assembly of Venezuela,” the papers read.
DEA identifies such source as “Witness 2.”
Salazar or Witness 2 “by mid-2008 provided security in a meeting hosted by Chávez in his ranch, attended, among others, by Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, the Minister of the Interior of Venezuela, and Luciano Marín, aka “Iván Márquez,” a FARC kingpin.”
During the meeting, Witness 2 “overheard Márquez describing the need for logistic support, including uniforms, ships and computers, among others, and Chávez promised that [state-run oil and gas company] Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) would provide the FARC with the funds.”
Witness 2 “overheard Chávez speaking on the phone with Carvajal. During the telephone conversation, Chávez called Carvajal after his nickname, “El Pollo,” and ordered him to supply weapons to the FARC.”
When Chávez died on March 5, 2013, Salazar boasted the rank of lieutenant commander (equivalent to major or commander) and, because of his track record as a fiduciary man, joined the security staff of Cabello at the National Assembly.
DEA describes Salazar-Cabello relationship in this way: “Around 2013, Witness 2 was relocated to assist Cabello. At that time, Witness 2 accompanied Cabello and some others in a private flight to Josefa Camejo international airport, near Punto Fijo (northern Venezuela).”
“When they arrived –the narrative proceeds– Witness 2, Cabello and some others got in a vehicle, in direction to San Román Cape, escorted by security cars. During the trip, Cabello phoned Carvajal and queried into his whereabouts. At the place of destination, Witness 2 saw Carvajal near the beach, escorted by a heavily armed security detachment.”
Next, Salazar “watched some men loading bundles of what looked like cocaine on speedboats and heard Carvajal instructing the boatmen to leave.”
The North is the South
From the point of view of US counternarcotic agents, the support offered by Venezuelan intelligence services to cocaine traffickers hampered the work of their interdiction task forces both in the Western Hemisphere and around the world.
Since 2005, the DEA has had no representation in Venezuela after Chávez terminated a counternarcotic agreement with the United States, on the pretext that the agency was engaged in spying.
According to the DEA paper, in 2009, since a significant number of drug lords had settled down in Venezuela, Carvajal and some other government officials “availed themselves of the opportunity to enter into a relationship with major international drug traffickers.”
“Witness 3, who worked with Venezuelan government officials in 2008-2014, was recruited as a consultant in relation to the paramilitaries in Colombia and drug trafficking, a work carried out by that person in the past.”
A partner of Carvajal in drug trafficking requested Witness 3 to prepare a report for the purposes of expanding his business, “because they were interested in finding more traffickers ready to pay for the use of drug trafficking routes settled in Apure and under their control.”
The role played by Witness 3 and his relationship with a person associated with Carvajal, eventually a DEA informer, identified as “CC1,” are pivotal in 2009-2014. During that period, according to the dossier, “El Pollo” increasingly engaged with Colombian and Mexican drug cartels, and the FARC.
“In April 2014, Witness 3 travelled to Venezuela and participated in meetings with Carvajal and CC1. The group talked about previous activities of drug trafficking and supply of weapons, including explosives for the FARC.”
During that meeting, “Carvajal also noted that he was keenly aware that the United States investigated him for his involvement in drug trafficking.” For this reason, he abstained from leaving the country without any legal protection. He needed, at least, diplomatic immunity.
For Carvajal, 2014 is a particular moment. Chávez had passed away the previous year and Maduro had reappointed him, in April 2013, as the chief of military intelligence. He held the incumbency only for eight months. At the end of that term, he went into retirement again.
At that time, up to 2015, “El Pollo” settled down in the civilian life to pursue a seat as deputy at the National Assembly. He made it in the parliamentarian election of 2015, when the opposition took over the legislature by a majority.
All those years as a deputy, Carvajal defended himself from the charges of cooperation with drug traffickers. He even requested then Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Díaz, to start a criminal investigation. However, there were never news of any charges against him in Venezuela.
An investigation conducted by ITEMP revealed that in September 2020, Ortega Díaz expressed her willingness to attest before the Spanish justice to the lack of formal accusations in Venezuela against the ex-chief of the military intelligence services. Opponents to Maduro’s regime questioned such assertion.
Iván Simonovis, the former chief of Caracas police department that was put in jail in 2004 on false accusations and remained in custody for almost 15 years, maintained, “Mr. Carvajal’s background was always tainted by his relationship with drug traffickers in Venezuela. Many a time, our investigations ended up fingering him. He is not innocent. I can assure you of that.”
Simonovis broke out in April 2019 and went into exile in the United States, where he joined the project of Interim President Juan Guaidó. The former police chief has warned that Carvajal’s downfall “will end up sealing many cases of drug trafficking in Venezuela, for he actually has a lot of clout on that.”
A booty for all
Most of the witnesses against Hugo Carvajal were drug traffickers in the past decade. In exchange of cash, and together with him and the Cartel of Suns, they made arrangements for the export of sizeable amounts of cocaine with the United States as the final destination, according to DEA.
Following their capture and appearance in a US court, they started to provide information as part of out-of-court settlement for a less harsh punishment, under Rule 35.
This is what Witness 4 precisely did, as appears from the DEA report. “He had been in the business of drug trafficking on large scale in Colombia and Venezuela since 1996. He worked with cocaine providers, Venezuelan military officer, air controllers and the FARC.”
As expounded in the document, “Carvajal helped him (Witness 4) to investigate an attack and interdiction in a clandestine airstrip” controlled by the kingpin. “He asked the General if the Venezuelan army had performed any operation in the area. He (the accused) said “no” and accepted to investigate the issue.”
“Carvajal headed to the area and promised Witness 4 to make sure that no further operations like this could be performed in that area in the future.”
The discussion among drug traffickers on the prices of cocaine shipments was still another point where “El Pollo” stood up, for his fees were constant and high.
Throughout four years, from 2006 to 2010, with Carvajal as the director of the Military Intelligence Division (DIM), another kingpin (Witness 5) who worked with Witness 4, confessed that the Venezuelan General took active part in numerous cocaine shipments with his partner.
Only Witness 5 “kept in touch on the phone and in person with Witness 4 in relation to at least seven cocaine shipments.” During their discussion about prices and logistics for transportation, Witness 4 said time after time “that transportation costs take into account kickbacks for Venezuelan corrupt officers, including General Carvajal,” the report states.
The right-hand man
In May 2018, when the Department of the Treasury fingered Pedro Luis Martín Olivares, a veteran of Venezuelan intelligence services, as one of Carvajal’s aides, they sought to cut the tentacles of both the General and his colleague that presumably ranged up to the mafia.
The Department of Treasury had included Martín Olivares, the former intelligence financial chief of the Venezuelan political police, in its list of drug traffickers. Additionally, since 2015, he is featured in the DEA Most Wanted Fugitives list, following an accusation for conspiracy in drug trafficking to the United States.
During his years of service, Richard Gregorie, the chief of Narcotics at the Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida, examined his detainees on the role played by Carvajal and Olivares in drug trafficking and money laundering.
Gregorie was the prosecutor that filed charges against Carvajal for the first time in US courts, opening Pandora’s box. In his view, the General “played an important role in the corruption that covered Chávez and Maduro. Hugo Carvajal is the first-hand witness of significant events and movements of cash inside the corrupt government of Venezuela,” he warned during an interview with ITEMP.
Prosecutor Gregorie examined Antonio Arvelaiz in relation to multiple matters. Arvelaiz was arrested in 2017 for his links with money laundering. His attestation was helpful to thicken the case files of Carvajal and Martín Olivares and investigate the relationship of Carlos Orense, aka “El Gordo,” a presumed high-level drug trafficker born in Venezuela, with Tareck El Aissami.
“El Pollo,” like Pedro Luis, provided us with credentials of the Venezuelan intelligence services that enabled Orense Azócar to travel at leisure across Venezuela; he gave us service firearms and supplied State vehicles,” Arvelaiz told public prosecutors, according to an interview with ITEMP.
In the business of transfer to other drug traffickers, “Orense, Carvajal and Martín Olivares charged a percentage for the custody and passage of the merchandise, for the setup of air radars for aircraft takeoff and safeguard and departure of boats,” said Arvelaiz, the financial engine of the organization led by “El Gordo Orense.”
“Carvajal really amassed a lot of money, for he charged on everything. Otherwise, he received nice presents from his partners. We paid him a handsome price in US dollars,” the witness said from his prison cell, where he served his sentence.
Hugo Carvajal Barrios acted as a tourist guide in the jungle of unlawfulness for the criminals seeking a quiet and safe stay in Venezuela. In any case, it was necessary to get in his good graces, perhaps by giving him a pretty penny, perhaps as ordered by Chávez.
In September 2019, the Spanish judiciary refused the extradition of the Venezuelan General to the United States. The rationale for the decision was that the evidence and accusations were of a political nature, and not for criminal offences, and that Carvajal was mostly required for what he knew about Chavezism instead of his deeds.
The wealth of pleadings and incriminating evidence kept for years in US courts against Chávez’s ex confidant is just one of many X-ray photographs of how Venezuelan top government officials embraced corruption for the sole purpose of holding onto power forever or getting rich.
Few government or opposition leaders are eager to refer to this mysterious character of the dark power in Venezuela. For better or worse, an aura of mysticism surrounds him for his profound knowledge of every person watched by him for years, when he was the top one. Fear of truth —or slander— is a shield for Carvajal.
“El Pollo,” now in his sixties, has a lot to say about the shady deals of the Bolivarian Venezuela built by Chávez. Anyhow, he will definitely not tell his own truth.
Thinking that he was just a bodyguard of late President Chávez, at the service of mafias or outlaws, is like disparaging his actions. Perhaps, one fine day, upon the reinstatement of democratic order in Venezuela, the first step will be taken to administer justice. Nonetheless, Washington will not rest until seeing him on the defendant’s stand or behind bars.