In a series of contentious but dubious allegations, a former military official from Bolivia has accused the presidents of Bolivia and Venezuela of conspiring to traffic cocaine into Spain.
On May 8, Brazilian news outlet Veja published excerpts from a 34-page report obtained from Bolivian Colonel Romulo German Cardona. The report — dated February 20 and labeled “Top Secret” — alleges that, then Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales started laying the groundwork for the movement of cocaine through Spain as long as six years ago. The policy continues through today, the report states, under the leadership of current Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Morales.
In his report, Cardona, who is in now in Spain seeking asylum, says that Peruvian and Bolivian cocaine would be sent via official government and military aircraft — such as the Hercules C-130s — since these aircraft “cannot be intercepted in international air space.” Once in Venezuela, the report adds, the cocaine would be repackaged in Caracas for direct shipment to Europe, bypassing “the bridges of Iran, Russia, Libya,” and other countries, such as Greece.
In an April 2015 interview with Veja, Cardona went further, saying that Bolivia’s Minister of the Presidency, Juan Ramon Quintana, is heading what he called the “Cartel of the Stars.” Cardona said the Bolivian group an extension of Venezuela’s “Cartel of the Suns.” According to Cardona, like its counterpart in Venezuela, the Cartel of the Stars is comprised of high-ranking Bolivian military and police officials (the suns and stars is a reference to the insignias on the epaulets on the officers’ uniforms used to denote rank).
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Perhaps most incredibly, Cardona also alleged that Morales personally negotiates drug flights with Maduro. He also implicated Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera and his brother Raul as part of the operations.
Cardona said he gave this report to General Jose Luis Begazo — the commander of the Bolivian army — in February, and, due to government persecution, had to flee to Spain on April 19.
In response to Cardona’s allegations, the Bolivian Armed Forces have accused him of desertion and have begun a series of disciplinary processes against him. Bolivian Minister of Defense Reymi Ferreira has also petitioned Spain to deny Cardona’s asylum request, as that would imply he was being politically persecuted in Bolivia, which authorities deny.
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There are reasons to believe that there is high-level collusion in drug trafficking operations in both Bolivia and Venezuela. Venezuelan government officials have been repeatedly linked to drug trafficking, the latest accusations coming from a new book by a well-known journalist. And Cardona is not the first Bolivian official to allege ties between the Morales government and the drug trade. In 2012, a Bolivian Senator made similar accusations and fled to Brazil to seek asylum. Bolivian Minister Juan Ramon Quintana has also been linked to drug trafficking activities in the past.
What’s more, before defecting to Spain, Colonel Cardona had an accomplished military career, and — in addition to being a lawyer and having worked as the judicial adviser for the Army’s Eighth Division — had been a university professor and director of a military hospital.
Nonetheless, Cardona may have stretched the truth, perhaps due to political differences with Morales and his highlands superiors. Born in a small town in eastern Bolivia near Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Cardona was one of the best cadets in his class at the Military Academy but felt discriminated against because of his Santa Cruz origins. One of his former students reportedly described him as very critical of the government, saying he would advise them not to follow a military career, “because there is always someone above you giving orders.”
The Bolivian government has denied all of Cardona’s accusations, and — perhaps given his resentment towards the military — called his recent actions “paranoid behavior aimed at tarnishing the credibility of the armed forces.”
Authorities have even suggested he is suffering from hallucinations, saying he has received poor scores on health tests in the past. Indeed, Cardona has apparently been suffering from poor health during the past year, something he attributes to government persecution against him and his family. Cardona says he could be assassinated at any moment.
This — along with high-level collusion amongst military officers in drug trafficking — might be true, but his suggestion that the presidents of Bolivia and Venezuela are part of a larger, Machiavellian master strategy to move cocaine into Europe through Spain on military aircraft requires a more significant stretch of the imagination although it is not totally impossible.