Former BLO leader Sergio Villarreal Barragan, alias "El Grande"

A captured leader of the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) has accused Venezuelan generals of complicity in an international cocaine trafficking network that sent drug flights to Mexico, in the latest evidence of criminal ties in Venezuela's military.

In testimony given prior to his extradition to the United States on 22 May, Sergio Villarreal Barragan, alias “El Grande,” said he had worked with Venezuelan generals to send drug flights to Mexico, reported Reforma (via La Silla Rota).

El Grande was second-in-command of the BLO until his arrest by Mexican marines in September 2010.

According to Reforma, El Grande told the Attorney General's Office that the BLO used to send drug flights loaded with tons of cocaine from the northwest Venezuela city of Maracaibo to Toluca airport, central Mexico. Several Venezuelan generals knew of the operation, as did Venezuelan kingpin Walid Makled, El Grande reportedly stated.

Between 2007 and 2008, the BLO operated another network out of Cancun airport, where Toluca-bound flights would stop to refuel and get false paperwork, according to El Grande. He claimed they paid $400,000 to federal police for each plane that landed, then another $900,000 in Toluca.

InSight Crime Analysis

The accusations once again bring suspicion on Venezuela’s military, and provide further support for the claims of Makled, who was arrested in Colombia one month before El Grande. Since his detention, Makled has been vocal about the vast web of corruption that he claims enabled his trafficking operation to run, claiming that a number of congressmen were on his payroll along with at least 40 high-ranking military officials, including current Venezuelan Defense Minister Henry Rangel Silva. Makled worked with the BLO -- according to Mexican federal sources who spoke to Univision last year, Makled had a close relationship with another leader of the group, Gerardo Alvarez Vasquez, alias “El Indio.”

Defense Minister Rangel has been on the US’s list of Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers since 2008, due to claims he helped the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) move cocaine into Venezuela. It is alleged that within the military there is a drug trafficking network known as the Cartel de los Soles (Cartel of the Suns). Furthermore, two former Venezuelan Supreme Court officials came out earlier this year with claims that narco-corruption within the military was rife.

The question now is what will be done with El Grande's testimony. Before his extradition, the BLO boss reportedly provided key testimony against four high-ranking Mexican army personnel accused of colluding with the BLO, who were detained just two weeks before he was sent to the US. His involvement in that case is likely to end with his extradition, because, as Milenio noted, the record of prisoners continuing to collaborate with Mexican justice from the United States is poor.

If El Grande is holding information that sheds light on drug trafficking links to the administration of President Hugo Chavez, however, the United States will likely try and pursue it, in an effort to step up pressure on the Venezuelan government. They tried to have Makled extradited to the United States so that they could explore his accusations, but the Colombian authorities opted to send him to Venezuela. With El Grande, though, they may be able to obtain the information to implicate Chavez allies in illicit trafficking networks.

Investigations

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