Thursday, November 12, 2015
Case against Venezuelan Leopoldo Lopez fabricated, ex-prosecutor says
By Ray Sanchez, CNN
White House calls for the release of Leopoldo Lopez
Ex-prosecutor: Case against Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez "invented"
Government blamed Lopez for violence during 2014 protests, but security forces also accused (CNN)The Venezuelan government fabricated evidence against opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, said a former prosecutor who handled the case against the popular politician.
Ex-prosecutor Franklin Nieves, who fled Venezuela last week, told CNN en Español on Tuesday that "100% of the investigation was invented" around false evidence in a sham prosecution allegedly orchestrated by President Nicolas Maduro and Diosdado Cabello, the head of the National Assembly.
Lopez was sentenced last month to nearly 14 years in prison and immediately took to social media to say, "This sentence is not only against me, but it attempts to bring down the spirits of everyone who is fighting to have a better country," according to his verified Twitter account.
Nieves said in an interview that he received orders from government officials to arrest Lopez two days before a 2014 opposition march.
He told CNN's Fernando del Rincon, "They jailed him because they fear his leadership."
The former prosecutor said that "after examining each and every piece of evidence it was shown that this person had at no point made even a single call to violence."
Video from anti-government protests where Lopez spoke show him "always calling on his supporters to remain calm," Nieves said.
Witnesses made false statements against Lopez, who was not permitted to adequately defend himself, said Nieves.
Venezuela's Ministry of Communications and Information has not responded to CNN requests for comment, but the nation's ombudsman, Tarek William Saab, told CNN that Nieves should have made his allegations during the trial and not afterward and Venezuela's chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Diaz, denied that Nieves was pressured to go after Lopez.
But Nieves said that the actions against Lopez are not uncommon in Venezuela.
"There are innumerable cases in which people were investigated and innocent people detained," he said.
Nieves said he had not spoken out earlier "out of fear" and because of the "pressure exerted" by superiors to get prosecutors to act "on the whims" of the government.
Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, said Nieves' accusations highlight the state of justice of Venezuela.
"Justice has been kidnapped, with the regime's henchmen unfairly making accusations against, imprisoning, torturing and persecuting the leaders who represent hope in Venezuela," she said.
Nieves' comments come one week after defense attorneys for Lopez appealed the sentence against the 44-year-old economist.
Human rights activists and the U.S. government decried the sentence against Lopez.
The court said Lopez committed serious crimes, according to Venezuelan state news agency AVN -- public instigation, vandalism, arson and criminal conspiracy.
But legal proceedings were a sham, Human Rights Watch said.
"The baseless conviction ... exposes the extreme deterioration of the rule of law in Venezuela," the rights group said in a statement. "The trials involved egregious due process violations and failed to provide evidence linking the accused to a crime."
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson said last month that the conviction "deeply troubled" her and called on the Venezuelan government to protect democracy and human rights.
In a four-page letter after his sentencing, Lopez said he was writing from the military jail of Ramo Verde. He urged all Venezuelans to instigate a "democratic rebirth" by making their voices heard in the country's next parliamentary elections.
The accusations against Lopez stem from opposition street protests in February 2014 that turned deadly. Dozens of people were killed, and hundreds injured.
Maduro, the handpicked successor to the late President Hugo Chavez, blamed Lopez, accusing him of terrorism and murder. Lopez was already a strong government critic before Chavez's death in March 2013.
In 2008, Chavez's government banned Lopez, a former mayor, from running for office.
Venezuela set to sentence opposition leader Lopez
But much of the violence at the 2014 protests stemmed from security forces, which also arrested hundreds, Human Rights Watch said. Security forces were accused of torture and abuse.
"The government has also tolerated and collaborated with pro-government armed groups of civilians," the group said.
Lopez briefly went into hiding but then turned himself in to authorities. He used social media to rally supporters who met him on the occasion.
A court said last month that Lopez's involvement in protests was part of a plan for a coup d'etat.
In June, Lopez went on a 30-day hunger strike in prison to demand congressional elections. The government has agreed to the demand, and elections are scheduled for December.
CNN's Osmary Hernandez and Arthur Brice contributed to this report.
Monday, June 22, 2015
Let them eat Chavismo
Let them eat Chavismo
The UN honours Venezuela for curbing hunger—which is actually getting worse
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Letter to Peter Maurer - President of the International Committee of the Red Cross
Caracas, June 2, 2015
Thursday, May 21, 2015
Venezuelan Officials Suspected of Turning Country into Global Cocaine Hub
By José de Córdoba and Juan Forero
Wall Street Journal
May 18, 2015
U.S. prosecutors are investigating several high-ranking Venezuelan officials, including the president of the country's congress, on suspicion that they have turned the country into a global hub for cocaine trafficking and money laundering, according to more than a dozen people familiar with the probes.
An elite unit of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington and federal prosecutors in New York and Miami are building cases using evidence provided by former cocaine traffickers, informants who were once close to top Venezuelan officials and defectors from the Venezuelan military, these people say.
A leading target, according to a Justice Department official and other American authorities, is National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, considered the country's second most-powerful man.
"There is extensive evidence to justify that he is one of the heads, if not the head, of the cartel," said the Justice Department official, speaking of a group of military officers and top officials suspected of being involved in the drug trade. "He certainly is a main target."
Representatives of Mr. Cabello and other officials didn't return phone calls and emails requesting comment. In the past, Venezuelan authorities have rejected allegations of high-ranking involvement in the drug trade as an attempt by the U.S. to destabilize the leftist government in Caracas.
In an appearance on state television Wednesday, Mr. Cabello said he solicited a court-ordered travel ban on 22 executives and journalists from three Venezuelan news outlets that he has sued for publishing stories about the drug allegations earlier this year. "They accuse me of being a drug trafficker without a single piece of evidence and now I'm the bad guy," Mr. Cabello said. "I feel offended, and none of them even said they're sorry."
The Obama administration isn't directing or coordinating the investigations, which are being run by federal prosecutors who have wide leeway to target criminal suspects. But if the probes result in publicly disclosed indictments of Mr. Cabello and others, the resulting furor in Venezuela would likely plunge relations between the two countries into their most serious crisis since the late populist Hugo Chávez took office 16 years ago.
"It would be seismic," said a U.S. official, of the expected Venezuelan reaction. "They will blame a vast right-wing conspiracy."
U.S. authorities say they are far along in their investigations. But they say any indictments that may result might be sealed, making them secret until authorities can make arrests-something that would be difficult if not impossible unless the suspects travel abroad.
The investigations are a response to an explosion in drug trafficking in the oil-rich country, U.S. officials say. Under pressure in Colombia, where authorities aggressively battled the drug trade with $10 billion in U.S. aid since 2000, many Colombian traffickers moved operations to neighboring Venezuela, where U.S. law-enforcement officials say they found a government and military eager to permit and ultimately control cocaine smuggling through the country.
"Most of the high-end traffickers moved to Venezuela in that time," said Joaquín Pérez, a Miami attorney who represents key Colombian traffickers who have acknowledged operating out of Venezuela.
Venezuela doesn't produce coca, the leaf used to make cocaine, nor does it manufacture the drug. But the U.S. estimates that nearly a third of the cocaine produced in other Andean countries, about 275 tons, now moves through Venezuela annually.
Prosecutors aren't targeting President Nicolás Maduro, who has been in power since Mr. Chávez's death two years ago. U.S. law-enforcement officials say they view several other Venezuelan officials and military officers as the de facto leaders of drug-trafficking organizations that use Venezuela as a launchpad for cocaine shipments to the U.S. as well as Europe.
'A Criminal Organization'
"It is a criminal organization," said the Justice Department official, referring to certain members of the upper echelons of the Venezuelan government and military.
Mildred Camero, who had been Mr. Chávez's drug czar until being forced out abruptly in 2005, said Venezuela has "a government of narcotraffickers and money launderers." She recently collaborated on a book, "Chavismo, Narcotrafficking and Militarism," in which she alleged that drug-related corruption had penetrated the state, naming more than a dozen officials, including nine generals, who allegedly worked with smugglers.
Law-enforcement officials in the U.S. said that they have accelerated their investigations in the past two years, a period that has seen Venezuela's economy worsen dramatically. Rampant crime has spiked, making Venezuela the continent's most violent country and spurring people to emigrate.
The deepening crisis has made it easier for U.S. authorities to recruit informants, say those working to enlist people close to top Venezuelan officials. Colombian and Venezuelan drug traffickers have also arrived in the U.S., eager to provide information on Venezuelan officials in exchange for sentencing leniency and residency, U.S. officials say.
"Since the turmoil in Venezuela, we've had greater success in building these cases," said a federal prosecutor from New York's Eastern District who works on Venezuelan cases.
In January, U.S. investigators made a major catch when naval captain Leamsy Salazar defected and was brought to Washington. Mr. Salazar, who has said he headed Mr. Cabello's security detail, told U.S. authorities that he witnessed Mr. Cabello supervise the launch of a large shipment of cocaine from Venezuela's Paraguaná peninsula, people familiar with the case say.
Mr. Cabello has publicly railed against his former bodyguard, saying he didn't head his security detail and calling him "an infiltrator" who has no proof of his involvement in drug trafficking. "Our conscience is totally clear," he said in a radio interview.
Rafael Isea is another defector who has been talking to investigators, people familiar with the matter say. A former Venezuelan deputy finance minister and governor of Aragua state, Mr. Isea fled Venezuela in 2013. People familiar with the case say Mr. Isea has told investigators that Walid Makled, a drug kingpin now in prison, paid off former Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami to get drug shipments through Venezuela.
Almost a year after leaving the country, Mr. Isea was accused of committing "financial irregularities" during his days as governor by Venezuela's attorney general, and by Mr. El Aissami, who succeeded him as governor of Aragua.
"Today, Rafael Isea, that bandit and traitor, is a refugee in Washington where he has entered a program for protected witnesses in exchange for worthless information against Venezuela," Mr. El Aissami said recently on Venezuelan television.
Mr. Isea has rejected the accusations as false, politically motivated and meant to discredit him.
In addition to Mr. El Aissami, other powerful officials under investigation include Hugo Carvajal, a former director of military intelligence; Nestor Reverol, the head of the National Guard; Jose David Cabello, Mr. Cabello's brother, who is the industry minister and heads the country's tax collection agency; and Gen. Luis Motta Dominguez, a National Guard general in charge of central Venezuela, say a half-dozen officials and people familiar with the investigations.
Calls and emails seeking comment from several government ministries as well as the president's office went unanswered. Some officials have taken to social media to ridicule the U.S. investigations. A Twitter account in the name of Gen. Motta Dominguez earlier this year said: "We all know that whoever wants his green card and live in the US to visit Disney can just pick his leader and accuse him of being a narco. DEA tours will attend to them."
To build cases, U.S. law-enforcement officials work with Venezuelan exiles and others to locate and recruit disaffected Venezuelans.
"We get people out of Venezuela, and we meet with them in Panama, Curaçao, Bogotá," said a former intelligence operative who works with U.S. officials to recruit and debrief Venezuelans who have evidence of links between Venezuelan officials and the drug trade.
Former Venezuelan military officers and others living outside the country provide help by contacting their former comrades and urging them to defect, the recruiter said. If the defector can provide useful information, the recruiter said, he is flown to the U.S. and a new life.
"What does the U.S. want?" said the recruiter, who has been working Venezuelan cases since 2008. "The U.S. wants proof, evidence of relations between politicians, military officers and functionaries with drug traffickers and terrorist groups."
Recently, at Washington's posh Capital Grille restaurant, a few blocks from Congress, a Venezuelan operative working with a U.S. law enforcement agency took a call from a middleman for a high-level official in Caracas seeking to trade information for favorable treatment from the U.S.
"Tell him I'll meet him in Panama next week," said the operative, interrupting a lunch of oysters and steak.
The biggest target is 52-year-old Mr. Cabello, a former army lieutenant who forged a close link in the military academy with Mr. Chávez when the two played on the same baseball team. When Mr. Chávez launched an unsuccessful 1992 coup, Mr. Cabello led a four-tank column that attacked the presidential palace in downtown Caracas.
Mr. Cabello has been minister of public works and housing, which also gave him control of the airports and ports, as well as minister of the interior and vice president. He was also president for a few hours in April 2002 when Mr. Chávez was briefly ousted in a failed coup.
Many analysts and politicians in Venezuela say they believe Mr. Cabello's power rivals that of Mr. Maduro and is rooted in his influence among Venezuela's generals.
Julio Rodriguez, a retired colonel who knows Mr. Cabello from their days at Venezuela's military academy, says that of 96 lieutenant colonels commanding battalions in Venezuela today, Mr. Cabello has close ties to 46.
The stocky and bull-necked Mr. Cabello, who often sports the standard Chavista uniform of red shirt and tri-color windbreaker in the red, yellow and blue of the Venezuelan flag, is host of a television program, "Hitting With the Sledge Hammer," on state television, in which he uses telephone intercepts of opponents to attack and embarrass them. Mr. Rodriguez said he believes Mr. Cabello will never make any kind of a deal with the U.S. "Diosdado is a kamikaze," he said. "He will never surrender."
U.S. investigators have painstakingly built cases against Venezuelan officials by using information gathered from criminal cases brought in the U.S. In Miami, people familiar with the matter say a key building block in the investigations involved a drug-smuggling ring run by Roberto Mendez Hurtado. A Colombian, Mr. Mendez Hurtado moved cocaine into Apure state in western Venezuela and, according to those familiar with his case, had met with high-ranking Venezuelan officials. The cocaine was then taken by boat or flown directly to islands in the Caribbean before reaching American shores.
Mr. Mendez Hurtado pleaded guilty in Miami federal court and received a 19-year prison term in 2014. People close to that investigation say that Mr. Mendez Hurtado and his fellow traffickers wouldn't have been able to operate without paying off a string of top military officers and government officials.
"The involvement of top officials in the National Guard and in the government of Venezuela in drug trafficking is very clear," said a former Venezuelan National Guard officer who served in intelligence and in anti-narcotics and left the country last year frightened by the overwhelming corruption he saw daily.
"Everyone feels pressured," he said. "Sooner or later everyone surrenders to drug trafficking."
In another case, in Brooklyn, prosecutors have learned about the intricacies of the drug trade in Venezuela after breaking up a cocaine-smuggling ring led by Luis Frank Tello,who pleaded guilty, court documents show. The cocaine was brought in across the border from Colombia and, with the help of National Guard officers, shipped north, sometimes from the airport in Venezuela's second-largest city, Maracaibo.
The U.S. investigations of Venezuelan officials have been going on for years, though investigators have sometimes been thwarted by politics.
In 2008, the U.S. Treasury Department put three top aides to then-President Chávez on a blacklist and froze any assets they might have in the U.S. Among the three was Mr. Carvajal, known as "El Pollo," or the Chicken, then the head of military intelligence. The U.S. acted after extensive evidence surfaced earlier that year in the computers of a dead Colombian guerrilla commander of burgeoning cocaine-for-arms exchanges between the rebels and top Venezuelan generals and officials, according to the U.S. and Colombian governments.
In 2010, Manhattan prosecutors unsealed the indictment of Mr. Makled, the Venezuelan drug dealer accused of shipping tons of cocaine to the U.S. through the country's main seaport of Puerto Cabello, which he allegedly controlled. Mr. Makled, who had been captured in Colombia, boasted of having 40 Venezuelan generals on his payroll.
"All my business associates are generals," Mr. Makled said then to an associate in correspondence seen by The Wall Street Journal. "I'm telling you we dispatched 300,000 kilos of coke. I couldn't have done it without the top of the government."
DEA agents interviewed Mr. Makled in a Colombian prison as they prepared to extradite him to New York. But instead, Colombia extradited him in 2011 to Venezuela, where he was convicted of drug trafficking. This February, he was sentenced to 14 years and six months in jail.
Last July, American counter-drug officials nearly nabbed Mr. Carvajal, who had been indicted in Miami and New York on drug charges and detained in Aruba at the American government's behest. But Dutch authorities released him to Venezuela, arguing that he had diplomatic immunity.
Upon Mr. Carvajal's release, President Maduro praised the former intelligence chief as a dedicated anti-drug fighter who had set a worlds' record capturing drug capos.
The U.S. is also gathering information from bankers and financiers who handle the money for top Venezuelan officials. Since last year, people familiar with the matter say the U.S. government has revoked the visas of at least 56 Venezuelans, including bankers and financiers whose identities haven't been made public. Some have sought to cooperate with investigators in order to regain access to the U.S.
"They are flipping all these money brokers," said a lawyer who is representing two Venezuelan financiers who have had their visas revoked. "The information is coming in very rapidly.
Labels: Diosdado Cabello, Hugo Carvajal, Jose David Cabello, Jose de Cordoba, Juan Forero, Leamsy Salazar, Luis Motta Dominguz, Nestor Reverol, Rafael Isea, Roberto Mendez Hurtado, Venezuela, Walid Makled, WSJ
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
US targets Andorra bank with laundering PdV funds
Monday, March 9, 2015
Obama is protecting Venezuelan citizens against Maduro's dictatorship
- actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions;
- significant acts of violence or conduct that constitutes a serious abuse or violation of human rights, including against persons involved in antigovernment protests in Venezuela in or since February 2014;
- actions that prohibit, limit, or penalize the exercise of freedom of expression or peaceful assembly; or
- public corruption by senior officials within the Government of Venezuela.
- The E.O. also authorizes the Department of the Treasury, in consultation with the Department of State, to target any person determined:
- to be a current or former leader of an entity that has, or whose members have, engaged in any activity described in the E.O. or of an entity whose property and interests in property are blocked or frozen pursuant to the E.O.; or
- to be a current or former official of the Government of Venezuela;
- Individuals designated or identified for the imposition of sanctions under this E.O., including the seven individuals that have been listed today in the Annex of this E.O., will have their property and interests in property in the United States blocked or frozen, and U.S. persons are prohibited from doing business with them. The E.O. also suspends the entry into the United States of individuals meeting the criteria for economic sanctions.
- We will continue to work closely with others in the region to support greater political expression in Venezuela, and to encourage the Venezuelan government to live up to its shared commitment, as articulated in the OAS Charter, the Inter American Democratic Charter, and other relevant instruments related to democracy and human rights.
Labels: Antonio J. Benavides Torres, Gustavo Gonzalez Lopez, Justo Noguera Pietri, Manuel Bernal Martinez, Manuel Perez Urdaneta, Miguel Vivas Landino, Nayarith Harington Padron, Nicolas Maduro, Obama, Venezuela
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Latin America’s shameful silence on Venezuela
BY ANDRES OPPENHEIMER
Judging from the shamefully weak response from Latin America’s regional organizations such as the OAS and UNASUR to the arbitrary arrest of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and other opposition leaders in Venezuela, it’s hard not to conclude that they have become mutual protection societies for repressive regimes.
Instead of immediately requesting the unconditional release of Ledezma, as well as that of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and other political prisoners who according to the United Nations have been victims of “arbitrary arrests,” the biggest regional organizations and virtually all Latin American leaders have largely looked the other way.
What’s the point of having these regional organizations, if they don’t even raise a finger to enforce their own charters calling for the respect and defense of democracy? And how to justify the absence of strong responses from Brazil and Mexico, the region’s biggest countries, whose presidents want to be seen as leaders of modern democracies?
Decades ago, when a Latin American country blatantly infringed democratic freedoms, such as Venezuela is doing now, the region’s most important democratic leaders condemned such events, and asked for urgent meetings of the Organization of American States (OAS) to press for corrective actions.
When former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori shut down his country’s Congress in 1992, the then pro-democracy government of Venezuela broke diplomatic relations with Peru, Argentina withdrew its ambassador, and Chile and several other countries officially requested that Peru be suspended from the OAS. And the OAS protested Fujimori’s action, forcing him to eventually call early elections for a new Congress a few months later.
Nothing even close to that happened after Thursday’s arrest of Ledezma, one of Venezuela’s top elected officials and leading opposition figure. At the time of this writing, no Latin American government had issued a strong condemnation of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s arbitrary arrest of Ledezma, nor requested an urgent OAS foreign ministers’ meeting to address the issue.
Maduro, who only earlier this month led official celebrations to honor a 1992 coup attempt by late President Hugo Chávez, has accused Ledezma and other opposition leaders of “conspiring and organizing” violent anti-government actions, which they categorically deny.
On Friday, outgoing OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza expressed his “alarm” over the latest events in Venezuela. But in the absence of any member country request to hold an extraordinary meeting, the group is basically watching Venezuelan events from afar.
The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) announced Friday it will send a delegation of foreign ministers from Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia to Venezuela at a yet to be determined date to observe the situation on the ground.
That may be good news for Maduro, since UNASUR is the regional group most sympathetic to his government. Last year, UNASUR dispatched the same three countries’ foreign ministers to Venezuela for an alleged mediation effort after student protests in Caracas left at least 43 dead.
But the UNASUR mediators not only failed to broker an agreement between Maduro and the opposition, but helped Maduro win precious time to diffuse the protests. The three countries’ foreign ministers did not get the release of all students arrested during the protests, nor a commitment from Maduro to meet some basic demands, such as the appointment of independent electoral authorities for this year’s legislative elections.
Earlier, in 2013, UNASUR had rushed to bless Maduro’s dubious election victory, after a pro-government electoral tribunal had proclaimed him winner by 1 percent of the vote despite opposition charges of massive fraud.
UNASUR President Ernesto Samper called Friday for “dialogue” in Venezuela, and criticized U.S. sanctions against about five dozen Venezuelan officials suspected of human rights abuses and corruption.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of the Americas department of Human Rights Watch, called Samper’s statements “highly unfortunate, because there’s absolutely no connection between the rightful U.S. cancelation of visas and freezing of assets of Venezuelan officials involved in human rights abuses and corruption, and the arbitrary detentions in Venezuela.”
Vivanco added that “we are seeing a daily deterioration of fundamental freedoms in Venezuela. The government is not accountable to any independent democratic institution there. The only thing left to stop this escalade of abuses is the regional community.”
My opinion: I agree. Trouble is, the regional community is leaderless. It’s no surprise that Venezuela’s closest allies — the populist demagogues ruling in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Argentina –— have remained silent.
What’s more difficult to understand is Mexico and Brazil’s failure to ask regional organizations to meet their duty and demand the respect for democratic institutions in all member countries.
Because of that, the OAS, UNASUR and other regional groups are increasingly looking as protectors of government abuses, rather than of democratic freedoms.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/andres-oppenheimer/article10886603.html#storylink=cpy