Who finances violent Latin American politics?
Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro is crazy about Alex Saab’s extradition to the United States this month. The former Caracas financial intermediary was arrested by police in Cape Verde in 2020 on an arrest warrant from Interpol. In retaliation for the extradition, Mr. Maduro immediately sent six former Citgo employees under house arrest to the infamous Helicoide prison.
Venezuela is right to be concerned, but not simple accusations of embezzlement. In any attempt to prove in court that the country is running a transnational criminal organization from the presidential palace in Miraflores and using it to destabilize democracies in the region, Mr Saab would be a perfect witness for the prosecution.
The news got even worse for Venezuela last week when Spain paved the way for the extradition of former Venezuelan military intelligence director Hugo Carvajal – aka El Pollo – to the United States. Like Mr. Saab, Mr. Carvajal was indicted by a federal grand jury. But unlike Mr. Saab, Mr. Carvajal started singing before the extradition was a done deal.
The importance of getting to the bottom of the work done by MM. Saab and Carvajal for Venezuela goes far beyond the arrest of a few thugs for drug trafficking and corruption. Across Latin America, democracy is being overthrown by violent undemocratic uprisings and replaced by a one-man regime of the far left.
It does not happen spontaneously. Activists who want to demolish the establishment need the resources to create lawlessness on the streets. The pattern, as David Spencer and Hugo Achá explain in the 2019 book “Infinite War”, can be seen in the political role cocaine played in Bolivia: “The engine of the insurgency was money” , and thanks to drug trafficking it was “available in previously unsuspected quantities on the illicit markets.” Bosses who refuse to step down even when they become unpopular also depend on the cash flow of the underworld. They have to buy people, feed and arm their military and paramilitaries, and conduct state intelligence operations.
Narcotics and corruption generate income. But it is necessary to launder these profits so that they can be moved to where they are needed, politically speaking. This is perhaps the real value that MM. Saab and Carvajal bring to the United States
Will the United States follow the trail to the end? Or, as bureaucrats do, will they just go on with their narrow cases of drug trafficking and corruption?
Mr. Saab was indicted in July 2019. US prosecutors allege that he, along with another defendant and three co-conspirators, violated the Corrupt Practices Abroad Act when they used “the rate of exchange controlled by the government of Venezuela, under which US dollars could be obtained at a favorable rate ”and submitted“ false and fraudulent import documents for goods and materials that were never imported into Venezuela ” and bribed “representatives of the Venezuelan government to approve these documents.”
With Venezuelans eating from dumpsters in ever-increasing numbers, it’s a colossal embarrassment for the regime. Yet if Mr. Saab defrauded the Venezuelan government, as the indictment says, Caracas is the victim. Why would Mr Maduro spend more than a year trying to help a crooked businessman escape US grip with the help of activist former left-wing Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón?
On the flip side, if Mr. Saab knows how Venezuelan illicit funds get to politicians and activists in Latin America and Spain, Mr. Maduro wouldn’t want him to share that information with Uncle Sam.
As the walls close this month, Carvajal has publicly stated that Venezuela has, for at least 15 years, illegally funded the hard left in Latin America. He cited names including Nestor Kirchner in Argentina, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Lula da Silva in Brazil, Manuel Zelaya in Honduras and Gustavo Petro in Colombia. He further alleges that Venezuela secretly funded the left-wing populist Spanish party Podemos.
Perhaps Mr Carvajal thought that by showing what he knows, he could negotiate with the ruling Spanish Socialists for protected witness privileges. He may have bet he would be inundated with opportunities in Spain to negotiate a better outcome than in the US
It did not work. Last week, a Spanish appeals court rejected Mr Carvajal’s asylum claim, dismissing his charges as a tactic to delay his extradition. An October 27 hearing to reopen a corruption case against Podemos based on Mr Carvajal’s allegations may now be dead.
If so, any hope of exposing the connection between the alleged criminality in the indictments of Messrs. Saab and Carvajal and the savage political movements destroying liberal democracy in the region now rest with the United States. This is a national security opportunity that is unlikely to present itself anytime soon.
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