The Dawn of the Worst Case Scenario?

Say hello to my little drug war

I generally steer clear of top secret, thinly sourced, rumint-heavy reporting from the murky world of the security services. There’s no checking those things for veracity and, unless you know the people involved – which, invariably, I don’t – it’s hard to know how to evaluate the claims made.

That said, people I respect are warning me not to dismiss the reports of former Army Chief of Staff, General Carlos Peñaloza, who has genuinely alarming things to say about the recent contract killings of two military officers knee-deep in the world of Bolivarian coke trafficking.

To wit,

El pasado 19 de abril fue asesinado a balazos en Barcelona el general de brigada (Ej.) Wilmer Moreno. Este crimen fue un ajusticiamiento similar al del Capitán Jesús Aguilarte Gámez. Además de las semejanzas en el modus operandi de los criminales, hay otras analogías escalofriantes. Ambos eran miembros de la logia golpista de Chávez, formaban parte de su círculo más cercano y habían sido señalados como sospechosos de participar en el tráfico de estupefacientes. Visto el modus operandi y conocido el entorno que rodea a estos hechos, es evidente que estamos ante el inicio de una guerra entre bandas rivales de traficantes de drogas. Moreno, al igual que Aguilarte, fue escogido como blanco para intimidar a los rivales y obligarlos a retirarse del negocio. Estos casos son ejemplos gráficos de cómo se están batiendo los carteles cívico militares de la droga por el botín venezolano.

The whole thing is worth a look (who knew, for instance, about Pequiven’s role in supplying chemcials to FARC cocaine labs?)

For non-Spanish speakers, the lowdown: two former military officers – both of them co-conspirators in Chávez’s 1992 coup attempt – have recently been killed in what appear to be drug hits. Both deaths are eerily similar. One of them (Aguilarte) used to be the governor of the border state of Apure. The other was, for years, head military officer in the Andean state of Mérida. The claim is that they controlled two competing “distribution channels” for Colombian cocaine headed from the custody of FARC to hungry markets in Europe and North America.

What we have, then, are rival drug bands starting to shoot it out for control of the super-lucrative drug routes. Both of these cartels would appear to be linked to the Venezuelan military, and one was initially headed by accused drug smuggler Walid Makled.

These guys are starting to shoot each other in the head…and Chávez hasn’t even died yet!

It’s been a leitmotif of mine for a while: without Chávez around to arbiter disputes between the factions that support him, there’s very little chance of conflicts between them being settled amicably.

It’s bad enough when some of those factions are armed and run by ideological extremists. But it’s really alarming when you realize some of these “factions” are really just competing drug cartels. It raises the possibility that, far from a time of fraught but genuine transition, the next few years could see Venezuela teetering towards failed state status.

It’s a dynamic that Roger Noriega – certainly no saint of my devotion - has put front and center. At first, I thought Noriega was just doing the typical Noriega alarmist spiel as he angled for a job in a hypothetical Romney administration.

But the Moreno and Aguilarte killings suggest the logic of pre-emption is already at work now, even before Chávez puts his second foot in the grave.

If this is where we’re headed, the political implications for a potential Capriles administration are enormous. His whole speil has been reconciliation and, to some extent, coexistence with chavista institutions. But if we really are in the throes of a narco-state, well … one simply cannot coexist with a narco-state. We are then heading straight into Zedillo territory.

It’s…very alarming. Then again, it may all be speculation.

28 thoughts on “The Dawn of the Worst Case Scenario?

  1. Thanks for bringing this up.
    Not for nothing Northern-gocho Henry Rangel Silva said what he said.
    I wonder what has happened to the guys detained for the shooting of Aguilarte. I found two of them in the CNE records, they seem to be from the Aragua area.

    Ps. for a moment I thought a youngish Jesse Chacón was the bloke in the picture

  2. I, too, generally discount Noriega as a political wannabe, marking out hardliner credentials. Too often his assertions are based upon his unnamed high level Venezuelan sources whose motivations cannot be weighed. But his concerns about out-of-control violence in the coming months seem well-founded. One factor he does not mention is the US election. Between September 1 and November 7, attracting the attention of decisionmakers in the US will be almost impossible. A parenthesis for committing dark deeds will open up.

    • I agree with “the House”. Note that Noriega responded to Fidel Castro’s threat of blood in the streets if the US interfers in Venezuela-and not a peep or whimper from the US State Department nor the President Obama.
      I read one commentary where someone pointed out how odd-Fidel Castro thinks he is being heroic defending drug dealers.

  3. In so far as it is possible to check, this version is 100% accurate. Recommended background reading for those looking to place all this in context: Violence and Politics in Venezuela, by International Crisis Group, pub. August 2011. Unfortunately, Venezuela is going to get more violent, not less, under Capriles, at least in the short term, because the alternative is a state that continues to be run by narcos. Replacing cowed or corrupt judges, prosecutors, cops etc.. with people prepared to confront the mafia will lead to a spate of selective killings, and possibly worse. If this country is not to end up like Colombia in the 1980s, a very close alliance with Bogotá will be required. Joint efforts to crush the guerrillas and the other trafficking gangs is essential. Fasten your safety-belts.

    • Verga, donacobius, you just cranked my paranoïa about this up to 11. I wonder what you mean by as far as it is possible to check – do you have an inside line to Pequiven or something!?

      • The Pequiven stuff is mostly on the record. It’s in the supreme court hearing that determined the Makled extradition request. It was even covered in the Miami Herald. The checking comes courtesy of some people with good military intelligence connections, plus a fiscal or two.

    • If the military are truly involved in drug trafficking (besides the corruption at ports, Mercal, etc), how likely are they to behave institutionally in case HCR wins the election? zero, negative a thousand???

      • A limited number of criminals in uniform may well be contemplating a coup in that event, but the vast majority has little incentive to follow them down that road, and plenty of reason to believe it would be a career-ending disaster.

  4. Quoting Mr. Toro “But the Moreno and Aguilarte killings suggest the logic of pre-emption is already at work now, even before Chávez puts his second foot in the grave.”
    Yes, and I heard it was ordered by Cubans-both these killings. And, even Fidel Castro himself has been threatening the “opposition” and those who betray Venezuela to the US (in other words) anyone who is not loyal to Cubans, I believe.

  5. For those prone to follow conspiracies, it would not be difficult to see the Cuban hand here –remember Ochoa? A character from Sierra Maestra like the two from 4F. In the Cuban case the maledissent argue it was Fidel’s way of cleaning up his chicken coop with a message to the narcos, something that begs the question, is Esteban (or a faction closest to him and the Cubans) doing the same? That would make of theses killings State sponsored executions, just another piece for our Jenga country…

    • And hasn’t (castro via) chavez hinted as bringing the “empire” down from within through civil unrest and drugs? Providing massive amount of cheap drugs to USA seems part of the ideological plan, while enriching those who are not in it for the ideological.

      • Given other ideas that have come from this group of megalomaniacs, the idea of poisoning the empire and its allies with cheap, societally destructive drugs as part of an ideological assault on the “First World” is not beyond the realm of imagination. Point well taken! Especially when the clingons see opportunities to make a huge amount of money, regardless if the strategy works or not!

        • Come on, guys: not even a Chavista will think a big country like the US will crumble down because of the cocaine consumption and trafficking…perhaps an “intelectual” like Britto García will see that as his wet dream. The Alcalás of this world just want to earn some Swiss franks.

          They make a buck and feel Schadenfreude, that’s all.

          Even when the US government was presenting those maps showing how the routes had changed towards more Venezuela-Caribbean, you could see most of it was still going from Colombia to Central America directly.

          And people don’t speak about that here?

  6. ‘the next few years could see Venezuela teetering towards failed state status.’ I think it got to that status quite sometime ago!

  7. Since we are in the realm of speculation and reliance on “intelligence contacts” Caracas Gringo’s sources indicated that Aguilarte’s was a revenge killing, not having anything to do with drug trafficking. The fact that he actually lived days before dying of his wounds suggests that it was not a professional hit, as Wilmer Moreno’s clearly was.

    See: http://caracasgringo.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/dead-army/

    So, if you eliminate Aquilarte, you only have one general killed, which does not constitute a trend.

    That being said, the failed state scenario is well within realm of possibility. What has made it so, is the systematic destruction of the independence of Venezuela’s political institutions.

  8. I would’ve thought most of the readership here (and certainly the hosts) were already regular readers of caracasgringo. How are we not taking whatever comes out of Noriega and Peñaloza without a couple metric tons of salt? Slow news day?

  9. “If this is where we’re headed, the political implications for a potential Capriles administration are enormous.”
    Capriles administration is now slim and none, too many would have to go to jail in the US, not to mention Castro’s Cuba is destitute.
    Venezuela is about to go from the frying-pan into the fire

  10. Venezuela fortunate drug violence not on levels of central America and Mexico partly due to fact that military controls trade. FT, the writing has been on wall for long time or you never followed drug busts?

  11. There’s a nice article in Elides Rojas’ blog in eud.com about the Mafia ruling Venezuelan jails:
    http://www.eluniversal.com/blogs/sobre-la-marcha/120506/en-las-carceles-las-mafias-mandan

    “¿Cómo hacen los internos para tener granadas, pistolas, fusiles de asalto, ametralladoras, cajas y cajas de balas, dinamita, explosivos, cuchillos, machetes? ¿Cómo hacen los presos para tener a su disposición mujeres y aguardiente de viernes a domingo? ¿Cómo hacen los presos para matarse unos a otros a punta de plomo, incluso a la visita? Fácil. La mafia verde controla esa parte. Eso, sin duda, lo sabe la ministra. ”

    That’s old news. And the same applies to drug trafficking. We are not talking about “mulas” smuggling a few pounds of drugs. We are talking about tons. It’s obvious that only heavy weights can run such a huge operation. And everybody knows that the head honchos “taking care” of our frontiers, ports and airports are “rojo rojto” military officers. It’s a no brainer: Whether the guys are blatantly inept or they are rotten to the core. Or both.

    Regarding Peñaloza’s statements: Aponte Aponte shed some light on the Maggino case, and Peñaloza gave some detail. Unfortunately, it’s all hearsay. It would be interesting to see some real evidence about the whole affair.

  12. Peñaloza is not only full of shit, he’s a fucking opportunist. Where was he all these years?
    He was leading a life of leisure in the US, where he was spending all the money he got from his years as a senior Army official.
    He’s run out of money, that’s why he’s shown up in the venezuelan media in an effort to get himself lined up with another cushy job in whatever comes after Chavez.
    BTW this guy’s dauphine was the current ambassador to Brasil, Garcia Montoya.
    I’d take anything this old bitch says with a big rain of salt.

    • Denouncing powerful men with guns as drug-traffickers is a curious form of opportunism.

      • That might be true, but a bandwagon is a bandwagon is a bandwagon.
        Peñaloza is full of shit.

        • Whatever his motivation may be — and I have no idea — I think it is of secondary interest. Even if his motives are less than pure, that in itself doesn’t prove he’s lying. Saying he’s ‘full of shit’ doesn’t really get us very far. He presents a highly detailed and, to my mind, plausible version of events. Can you point to anything in his story that is evidently untrue? Or show him to have lied on other occasions?

          • Ok, I understand that you might give this guy credence based on the fact that he seems to be saying plausible things. All I am saying is that having known the guy, he’s full of shit. He’s trying to even the score for stuff that he feels was done to him 20 years ago when he was passed up for what he thought was a deserved position.
            He got rich, inexplicably so, and moved to the US to spend all that money.
            He’s full of shit. That’s all I’m willing to say here. He’s not the only rat in our midst claiming the mantle of opposition leader. (And believe me, that’s what that deluded old fuck believes he’s getting out of this)

            • Can you say anything about his role vis-a-vis the events that led up to 4F? As I understand it, there’s some evidence of obscure machinations on his part.

              • I don’t think he had any role in it besides trying to bust Chavez for the longest time, and coming up short in evidence. He has been accused of letting Chavez run with the conspiracy para alzarse con el coroto. But so have been a lot of other people: Ochoa Antich, Carlos Santiago Ramirez, and a long etc. of generals known collectively as “Los notables”.
                Did they do it? It can’t be proven, as far as I know. Unless somebody comes up with a recording of these guys talking about this, it’s impossible to prove that they failed to act because they wanted Chavez to succeed. It’s more likely that Chavez got away with it because they didn’t have the right information at the right time.
                What’s true is that Peñaloza is at least partially responsible for failing to dig up dirt to kick Chavez out of the Army. There’s plenty of sources for that.

  13. Take the first of Noriega’s points (yes – by itself):

    “As a result, according to my sources inside the presidential palace, Minister of Defense Gen. Henry Rangel Silva has developed a plan to impose martial law if Chvez’s deteriorating condition causes any hint of instability. ”

    If your defense minister were God Himself, what would he do differently? Would he let the street thugs take over? Would he grab and install any civilian – like another Carmona – who happend to wander into Miraflores?

    If I seem to you to be an advocate of military rule, you are very sorely mistaken. But please realize that, contrary to popular myth, very few army officers – the ones in command – have any desire for military rule. Chavez himself was an exception, not the rule. Yet when the real shooting starts, your army is the only group you have that can hold the nation together long enough to select a civilian leader. You have little practical choice but to work WITH them toward a reasonable result.

    At least let us notice that planning ahead makes very good sense in terms of civilian lives no matter whose side you’re on.

    Best Regards,

    Deedle

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