A Venezuelan former Supreme Court judge is now in Washington cooperating with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and may be sharing intelligence on high-ranking military and government officials involved in the drug trade.
Former Judge Eladio Aponte, who left Venezuela for Costa Rica on April 2, was flown out of the Central American country Tuesday night on a DEA-chartered flight.
An unnamed source told El Nuevo Herald that Aponte is “providing detailed information on drug trafficking operations in Venezuela.” Aponte reportedly pointed the finger at General Henry Rangel Silva, the recently appointed defense minister whom the US Treasury says has worked with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in trafficking drugs. Aponte also reportedly said that one of President Hugo Chavez’s closest allies, Diosdado Cabello, who was recently made head of the ruling party, has links to the drug trade. Aponte also named General Cliver Alcala, another military official sanctioned by the US for allegedly establishing a drugs-for-guns trade with the FARC.
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One question is how reliable Aponte’s allegations are, and whether he has a political ax to grind. The judge was removed from his position on March 20, after evidence emerged that he helped Venezuelan drug trafficker Walid Makled secure official documents needed to run his businesses. Notably, Aponte was once in charge of assigning judges to Venezuelan states that border on Colombia, where many of the main cocaine-trafficking routes are found.
If Aponte is now collaborating with the DEA, this may have been the exact outcome that some Venezuelan officials wanted to avoid with Makled. After Makled’s arrest in 2011, he spoke openly about the involvement of the security forces and part of the political establishment in drug trafficking, claiming to possess compromising videos that showed members of the Chavez government involved in drug deals. When the Colombian government chose to extradite Makled to Venezuela instead of the US, where he is also wanted on drug charges, it was viewed as a political victory for those officials who wanted to avoid having Makled’s intelligence fall in US hands.
Opposition politician Julio Montoya told El Nuevo Herald that Aponte, Makled, and others in the military and political establishment created a drug cartel that rivals the power of Colombia’s Medellin Cartel. But even as Aponte has proved willing to collaborate the DEA, the challenge will be deciphering whether his charges are accurate, or whether he is playing a larger political game.
This article previously appeared on the Pan-American Post.