MIAMI — The extradition to Venezuela of alleged drug trafficker Walid Makled occurred in the context of an intense diplomatic chess game where President Hugo Chávez sacrificed Colombian guerrillas to capture the dangerous pawn, who kept his government in check, according to emails from a private security firm obtained by WikiLeaks.
The reports, from the private intelligence firm Stratfor, highlight the pressure applied by National Armed Forces’ high-ranking officers to push Chávez into negotiations with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ government.
Makled, accused by the United States of being “a king among the drug lords,” was extradited to Caracas in May although the Venezuelan entrepreneur also faced an extradition request from Washington.
The entrepreneur, who months before had been detained in Colombia, said in various interviews that he was willing to collaborate with U.S. authorities to avoid being extradited to his own country.
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Among the various revelations offered from his prison cell, Makled acknowledged that important Chávez officials were on his payroll, including high-ranking Armed Forces officials, according to some of the more than five million emails revealed by WikiLeaks.
Makled also accused the Army of being directly involved in transporting drugs on planes that took off every day from the border state of Apure.
Those high-ranking officers feared the possibility of a trial in U.S. courts if Makled was allowed to be sent to Washington, where he could negotiate his testimony in exchange for a lighter sentence, said one of the Stratfor reports leaked by WikiLeaks.
And that fear led them to request a meeting with Chávez, said the reports by Stratfor, a company that offers risk analysis to corporate clients.
“Before Chávez supported [Henry] Rangel [Silva], Rangel and the most senior general went to Chávez and asked him, ‘Who are you going to side with?’ ” said the report about a meeting held before the Venezuelan president promoted Rangel Silva to general in chief, the highest rank available in the Venezuelan Armed Forces.
“Chávez didn’t have much choice but to do something, like his promotion, to show the rest that he wasn’t going to betray them over Makled,” added the report titled VZ/Colombia – The Stability of the Venezuelan Government and Makled.
Rangel Silva, together with Major General Clíver Alcalá Cordones, the former mayor of Caracas, Freddy Bernal, and the former chief of the Military Intelligence Department, Hugo Carvajal, as well as other government officials appear on the U.S. Treasury’s black list due to their links to terrorist and drug trafficking organizations.
Rangel Silva’s promotion apparently did little to placate the concerns generated by the possibility of Makled being sent to the United States.
Another cable, titled “Chávez Strengthens His Military Support,” indicated that the Venezuelan government turned desperate during its negotiations with Bogota.
“High-ranking members of the government may prove unwilling to gamble on Makled’s fate and could make contingency plans to protect their assets and themselves,” the report said.
“The president’s biggest fear is that such planning could destabilize his government, perhaps culminating in a coup attempt down the road,” it said.
According to the report, the concern was that Makled could offer the U.S. authorities evidence implicating high-ranking officials of the Venezuelan government in drug trafficking operations.
“Makled is thought to possess valuable recordings of transactions incriminating high-ranking members of the Venezuelan government in money laundering, drug trafficking and perhaps terrorism,” the report said.
“Given the tumult that would ensue should high-ranking members of the Venezuelan government face such serious criminal charges in a U.S. court, Caracas has pressed the Colombian government to extradite Makled to Venezuela on the grounds that he is a Venezuelan citizen.”
Another report, titled “Makled’s Threat to the Venezuelan Regime,” highlighted that Makled was also in possession of massive money laundering schemes, “which were totally out of control” and that had led to the gradual deterioration of the country’s key sectors, including food, electricity, energy and metals.
With the deepening of the deterioration in these sectors, impacting the cash flow toward state enterprises, the “intersection between money laundering and drug trafficking deepened as well,” the report said.
According to the report, Makled was in a position to offer detailed information about the interconnection of state entities with drug trafficking, besides the growing relationship of the Venezuelan government with Iran, and particularly the presence in the country, with “Chávez’s authorization,” of the Revolutionary Guard and the Qods Force, a special unit of the Revolutionary Guard.
Chávez’s government’s desperation over the possibility that Makled would end up telling his secrets to the United States gave a great advantage to the then-recently inaugurated Santos’s administration.
In fact, Makled ended up playing a key role in improving diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Colombia, which were tense during the previous Colombian administration of President Alvaro Uribe.
“When Stratfor began receiving reports of the Venezuelan military quietly shutting down Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) camps and flushing FARC members back across the border into Colombia, it was evident that Bogota was holding something big over Chávez’s head,” said the report.