Newly appointed Vice President Tareck El Aissami

The newly appointed vice president of Venezuela has reportedly been investigated by the United States for involvement in the drug trade, making him the most recent official with suspected criminal ties to take a top position in the Venezuelan government.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced on January 4 that Tareck El Aissami, the former governor of the state of Aragua who had previously served as interior minister, was selected as vice president amidst a general reordering of the cabinet.

El Aissami has previously been linked to drug trafficking in several media reports citing unnamed US officials. In 2015, El Nuevo Herald reported that anonymous sources had mentioned El Aissami as a potential accomplice in a drug trafficking scheme involving nephews of Venezuela's first lady.

The news outlet again cited an anonymous source in 2016 who stated that El Aissami worked with Roberto de Jesús Soto García, the alleged Honduran connection for the networks of Venezuelan military officials involved in drug trafficking known as the Cartel of the Suns.

In its report on El Aissami's recent appointment as vice president, the Associated Press wrote that two anonymous sources had confirmed that US prosecutors are investigating the Venezuelan official's possible involvement in drug trafficking.

A few days after naming El Aissami as the new vice president, Maduro announced the creation of an "anti-coup command" to be headed by El Aissami, an increasingly influential and hardline figure within Maduro's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela - PSUV).

The objective of the "command" will be to "defeat and end once and for all the remains of the oligarchical and right-wing coup against the state," reported the EFE press agency. (The Venezuelan government and some of its supporters often promote conspiracy theories that claim the political opposition is working with shadowy actors to destabilize and eventually overthrow the PSUV's hold on power.)

President Maduro added that several other high-ranking figures would be integrated in the "command," including Interior Minister Néstor Reverol and top PSUV official Diosdado Cabello. Both men have also previously been accused of involvement in drug trafficking.

InSight Crime Analysis

Internal political dynamics within the PSUV may have contributed to Maduro's decision to replace the moderate Aristóbulo Istúriz with the hardline El Aissami as vice president. However, the appointment also represents a pattern of officials suspected of criminal activities being placed in high-level posts in the Venezuelan government.

As Maduro faces a severe and deteriorating economic and security situation in his country, he appears to be surrounding himself with officials who have a substantial interest in ensuring the political opposition does not take power.

"Since El Aissami has been the subject of US drug trafficking and money laundering investigations he has high exit costs and that will make him loyal to the preservation of the Maduro government," David Smilde, an expert on Venezuelan politics who teaches at Tulane University, told InSight Crime. 

SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profiles

As mentioned above, the nomination of El Aissami -- who has been called "the narco of Aragua" by leading opposition figure Henrique Capriles -- is not an isolated case. Néstor Reverol was named interior minister by President Maduro the day after the United States unsealed a drug trafficking indictment against him. And Diosdado Cabello was denounced along with El Aissami as being deeply involved in the drug trade by former top Venezuelan officials who defected to the United States, according to the Wall Street Journal.

As InSight Crime previously explained, these appointments seem to be part of a trend whereby the current administration chooses to protect high-ranking officials accused of crimes in order to cling to its decaying power, by ensuring the president a loyal entourage that would have as much to lose from the president's political demise as Maduro himself.

But this strategy appears to have reached new heights recently, as alleged criminals have now entered some of the most influential cabinet offices and have been appointed to a special "command" within the executive branch. This dynamic could facilitate the expansion of widespread corruption and involvement of Venezuelan officials in other criminal activities.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

In the photograph, they are both smiling. In the foreground, on the left hand side, a man in a short-sleeved buttoned white shirt, jeans and a metal watch, holds a bottle of water in his right hand. He laughs heartily. He is Herbert Saca. On the right...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.