A former Venezuelan presidential security chief has accused the nation's National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello of drug trafficking, in just the latest event to heap pressure on President Nicolas Maduro.
Leamsy Salazar arrived in Washington DC on January 26 as part of a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation into links between drug traffickers and Venezuelan officials. Up until December he had served as Cabello's security chief, having previously spent almost ten years protecting former President Hugo Chavez, who died in March 2013.
During his tenure, Salazar claims to have observed several high-ranking government officials' involvement with drug trafficking, reported Spanish newspaper ABC, citing sources close to the DEA investigation.
Salazar has reportedly accused Cabello of being the leader of drug trafficking group “Cartel de los Soles” (Cartel of the Suns) and claims to have personally witnessed the official giving launch orders for boat shipments of cocaine. Salazar also accused the official’s brother, Jose David Cabello, of overseeing the group’s finances. According to the claims, Cuba facilitated some of the group's illegal activities and Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA's airplanes were sometimes used to transport drugs, with proceeds laundered through the company.
According to ABC, the testimony provided by Salazar corroborates that given by former Venezuelan supreme court chief Eladio Aponte, who fled to the United States in 2012 and also became a protected DEA witness. Based on that evidence, the DEA will reportedly seek to put together a legal case against Cabello and his cohorts.
InSight Crime Analysis
This is not the first time Cabello has been linked to criminality and corruption in Venezuela, with accusations of involvement in theft from state agencies emerging in 2013. He has also been mentioned in US cables released by Wikileaks, including one in which a political economist is quoted labelling him "one of the three major poles of corruption close to or within the government."
Though it may be true that Cabello is a powerful figure within the Cartel de los Soles, the organization is thought to be a decentralized collection of corrupt military cells, without a linear command structure, so the accusations may be somewhat overblown.
SEE ALSO: Cartel de los Soles News and Profile
They will nevertheless pile yet more pressure on President Nicolas Maduro at a time when his approval ratings continue to tumble amid widespread shortages of basic goods and the suffering inflicted upon Venezuela’s hydrocarbon-dependent economy by the recent oil price collapse.