Cuban Connection To Venezuelan Violence
The article following was forwarded to me by my contact in Venezuela. I also spoke directly to the Institute for Cuba and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at University of Miami. The article is “An Information Service of the Cuba Transition Project Institute for Cuba and Cuban-American Studies University of Miami, Issue 212, March 18, 2014.”
The problem in Venezuela has spiraled out of control and Cuban influence is demonstrable. It is something Americans need to be aware of and it is something that our government needs to address on some level.
Anytime oil is involved in the discussion, America needs to be listening. Venezuelan oil sales to the U.S. are approaching 28-year lows as the country turns to China amid a shale boom that’s flooding U.S. refineries. Now a Canada-U.S. pipeline threatens to further curb its Gulf of Mexico access. (Venezuela Oil Sales to U.S. at 1985-Low Shows China Cost; Pietro D. Pitts and Nathan Crooks; 1/31/14) But that doesn’t mean America should just turn our heads, especially pursuant to the human rights abuses taking place in Venezuela at this very moment. Supposedly it was just such human rights abuses that Obama referenced in Syria, Egypt, and Libya.
Obama is concerned about the Ukraine; he might well be concerned about Venezuela aLso. My contact in Venezuela informed me earlier today: “The subject person, Maria Corina Machado, is in Washington, DC, [today] speaking with the Organization of American States about problems [in Venezuela] and the government violence against the people. She is accompanied by the mother of one of the murdered students and a student leader who is very involved in the student movement here. There was an order for her detainment, but she managed to escape under the guise of being here on the island. Unfortunately,the mayors I earlier mentioned were not so lucky and have been arrested for whatever charges this government wants to say…Maria is a Congresswoman who received the largest majority of votes, by far, than all other members of Venezuelan Congress. She is very outspoken and very involved in protests here in the country. Your reply made my day. We are so at the mercy of this dictator and have so little outside contact to tell the stress and discontent we are dealing with here…”
Article Begins Here:
Venezuela-Cuba Military Cooperation and the Narco-Terrorist Connection
The rebellion of the Venezuelan youth demanding the end of Nicolas Maduro’s presidency has brought into the forefront the nature of a regime that can be defined as a highly corrupt narco-terrorist state supported by Cuban military forces and Colombian drug cartels.
Venezuela, a country of 29 million people, is blessed with good climate, rich land, the largest oil reserve in the world and access to major industrial markets. It has every expectation of prospering and becoming a modern, wealthy state. Yet the ruling oligarchy, led by the late-Hugo Chavez and now Nicolas Maduro, understood their revolutionary goal as a right to pillage the national wealth, turning the country into a decrepit caricature of Cuba’s Marxist failure and a secure route for Colombia’s narco-guerilla to smuggle cocaine to the international markets.
The Cuban Connection
First and foremost, the Maduro government hold to power depends to a large extent on Cuba’s special forces of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) estimated at over 7,000. This is not counting medical and other support personnel (over 30,000) deployed throughout Venezuela.
In addition, Cubans helped trained several thousand trusted “Chavistas.” Called collectivos, these motorcycle gangs can be seen in the videos and pictures helping the National Guard repress peaceful protests and shooting unarmed students (presently, more than 25 students have been murdered and over 300 wounded).
Currently, General Raul Castro has several high ranking officers providing tactical and strategic advice to the Venezuelans, including General Leonardo Ramon Andollo, Second Chief of the General Staff of the Ministry of the Armed Forces (MINFAR), Comandante Ramiro Valdes, former head of Cuba’s MININT, and General Carlos Fernandez Gondin, Second in Command of the Ministry of Interior. The first two have spent extended periods of time in Venezuela organizing Cuba’s support for Venezuela’s repressive apparatus.
Senior officers involved in the Cuban connection are:
“Comandante Histórico” Ramiro Valdés: He was trained by the efficient and brutal East-German intelligence agency (STASI). Valdes was the first chief of Cuba’s repressive intelligence force (G-2). He is now Vice President of the Council of State and member of Cuba’s Communist Party Politburo. Valdes has remained in Venezuela for extended periods analyzing intelligence information on Venezuelan military, active and potential opposition officers and retaliatory tactics to be enforced.
General Leonardo Ramón Andollo (MINFAR): Second Chief of the General Staff and Chief of Operations for the MINFAR. General Andollo is a highly trusted link between Colombia’s narco-guerilla FARC and Venezuela’s Armed Forces officers. For over 15 years, General Andollo has been the principal liaison between the Colombian and Venezuelan drug cartels. He has spent extended periods of time in Venezuela. It is reported by MININT defectors (1) that General Andollo has met with Colombian guerrilla leaders in safe areas controlled by the Venezuelan Cartel de los Soles. (2)
General Carlos Fernández Gondin (MININT): Second in Command of Cuba’s Ministry of Interior (MININT). General Gondin and his staff officers are in overall command of MININT’s Special Forces (over 7,000) deployed in Venezuela.
General Alcibiades Muñoz Gutierrez: Director of Intelligence for the MININT. General Muñoz Gutierrez officers are in charge of intelligence gathering, data evaluation and tactical recommendations against Venezuelan students and political opposition leaders.
Comandante Manuel Piñeiro (known as Red Beard; deceased): former Vice- Minister of the Interior and Chief of the “Departamento America” that was the operational agency of Cuba’s Communist Party Politburo throughout Latin America. Piñeiro was the first high ranking Cuban military officer that in the 1970s established close links with the Colombian Marxist guerrilla and the drug cartels (including Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel).
In Panama, Piñeiro’s officers had a large and efficient intelligence headquarters that worked in close collaboration with General Omar Torrijos and later General Manuel Antonio Noriega. Both Panamanian generals were heavily involved in drug trafficking and money laundering.
Vice-Admiral Aldo Santamaria Cuadrado (deceased): former Chief of the Cuban Navy. In 1983, the Vice Admiral was indicted by the United States Southern District Court. The federal prosecutors Stanley Marcus and Richard Gregorie headed the indictment against Santamaria Cuadrado for protecting and supplying ships transporting drugs from Colombia to the Southern District of Florida and elsewhere, by way of Cuba in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 963. (3)
The connection between Cuba and Colombia drug cartels has been well documented and later served Cuba to develop a working relationship between the Colombian narco-guerilla and the Cartel de los Soles in Venezuela led today by several senior officers including General Hugo Carvajal Barrios.
On February, 1991 the documentary Cuba and Cocaine exposed Cuba’s involvement in narcotics trafficking. The production featured interviews with Reinaldo Ruiz, a Cuban who admitted in American courts his involvement in drug trafficking, Carlos Ledher, one of the founding members of the Medellin Cartel, General Rafael del Pino, Cuba’s highest ranking officer who defected to the U.S., and U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Karonis, among others.
Following is the statement of US Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Karonis in Cuba and Cocaine:
“The scenario would be for a small twin-engine airplane with maybe 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of cocaine, fly over Cuba, drop the drugs to a pre-designated rendezvous point to several boats… many times it would be under the eyes or at least a Cuban military vessel would be in the immediate vicinity, right on scene with them.”
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Castro regime was in dire need of cash that would replace the Soviet subsidies. During this period, drug trafficking routes involving Nicaragua (4) and Panama (5) became prime operational areas. These drug trafficking links surfaced in the indictment against Carlos Lehder who admitted meeting with Raul Castro to coordinate drug shipments. Lehder also testified in the Southern District of Florida that Cuba controlled cocaine trafficking in Nicaragua. (6)
The Cuban-Venezuela Drug Trafficking Connection
In 1999, Hugo Chavez’ rise to power in Venezuela changed the Castro brother’s focus to South America. The Cuban government became not only interested in the large subsidies provided to them by Chavez’ government but also on the profitable drug trafficking routes already existent in the Colombia-Venezuela border. Cuba’s prior involvement in narcotics trafficking proved to be a valuable component in a growing partnership between Colombian and Venezuelan drug cartels.
Senior Venezuelan officers involved with Cuba in drug trafficking:
General Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios “El Pollo”: Director of Military Counter-Intelligence. On September 12, 2008 the U.S. Department of the Treasury stated that General Armando Carvajal assisted the Colombian narco- guerrilla (FARC) in smuggling drugs and weapon. (7) He has been one of the most important links between Colombian drug cartels and the Venezuelan Cartel de los Soles. He has used military vehicles, aircrafts and watercrafts for shipping drugs to Europe, Mexico and the U.S.
Vassyly Kotosky Villarroel Ramirez: former captain of Venezuela’s National Guard. In 2013, the U.S. Department of the Treasury identified Villarroel Ramiroz as aiding Mexican drug cartels and facilitating the transportation of cocaine through Venezuelan territory. According to the report, Villarroel Ramirez “provided security and protection when cocaine loads and the proceeds from Mexico were smuggled from or into Venezuela’s Maiquetía International Airport via commercial or private aircraft. He facilitated the cocaine loads from Colombia through Venezuela in partnership with known drug traffickers…The cocaine shipments benefited Mexican drug trafficking organizations, specifically the Sinaloa Cartel, Los Zetas, and the Beltran Leyva Organization.” (8)
General Henry de Jesús Rangel Silva: In 2008, the U.S. Department of the Treasury stated that “Rangel Silva has materially assisted the narcotics trafficking activities of the FARC. He has also pushed for greater cooperation between the Venezuelan government and the FARC.” (9) General Rangel Silva is the current governor of Trujillo, Venezuela, member of the Socialist Party of
Venezuela (PSUV), former Minister of Defense and former head of the intelligence and counter-intelligence service (DISIP). He was promoted by the late Hugo Chavez to General-in-Chief, the highest rank in the Venezuelan military.
Ramón Rodríguez Chacín: In 2008, the U.S. Department of the Treasury stated that Ramon Emilio Rodriguez Chacín, who was Venezuela’s Minister of Interior and Justice until September 8 of that same year, is one of Venezuela’s source of weapons supply to the Colombian narco-guerrilla, which pays in cash for equipment and for protection (provided by the Cartel de los Soles) of drug routes throughout Venezuelan territory. (10)
Chacín is a retired naval officer, member of the Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and governor of Guárico, Venezuela. German magazine Der Spiegel reported that he travelled periodically to FARC camps and was assigned by the late Hugo Chavez to manage the complex illegal transactions between the FARC, Venezuela and Cuba for the supply of weapons, and money laundering.
General Cliver Alcalá Cordones: is a high ranking member of the Cartel de los Soles. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, General Alcalá Cordones “has used his position to establish an arms-for-drugs route with the FARC.” (11) Commander of the Eastern Army. In 2011, the United States Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets (OFAC) listed him as supporting terrorist organizations and “narcotics and arms trafficking activities.” (12) His brother is Gen. Carlos Alcalá Cordones.
General Carlos Alcalá Cordones: current Mayor of Vargas, Venezuela. Former Chief of the Army (appointed by Chavez in 2012-2013). In 2011, the United States government issued a statement barring Americans from engaging in business with Gen. Cordones because of his links to the FARC. (13)
General Nestor Reverol Torres: accused in 2010 by drug kingpin Walid Makled Garcia as one of his collaborators smuggling drugs from Colombia to Venezuela. (14)
During the past decade Cuba and Venezuela have forged a close political and military alliance. On the Cuban side, the Castro regime provides Venezuela military and security support. Several thousand Cuban military personal and advisors are now in the country. Several thousand Cuban doctors are also in Venezuela as part of Castro’s expanding international medical programs. In addition, the Cuban military helped establish a relationship between the Venezuelan military and the Colombian narco-guerrilla, making Venezuela a major drug transshipment point toward the U.S. and Europe.
According to economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Venezuela is providing an estimated $13 billion (15) in yearly aid to Cuba, including 80,000-100,000 barrels of petroleum daily. The Maduro regime has also invested in rebuilding the old Russian refinery of Cienfuegos.
Cuba has a major stake in Venezuela and in protecting these subsidies. The recent increase in Cuban troops sent to Venezuela highlights the Castros’ commitment to the survival of the Chavista regime and their concern with the growing violence in the country.
The most troubling aspects of this relationship are the growing drug trafficking and the continuous opposition to U.S. policies. The inclusion of Iran in rounding out this triumvirate, has added a dimension of strategic importance. The proximity of Cuba and Venezuela to the U.S. makes the two countries ideal platforms for anti-American activities, specifically in the event of a U.S. conflict with Iran. These two allies may be called upon to support Iranian policies and objectives.
Note: other high ranking Cuban officers involved in the Venezuela-Cuba military operation are General Alejandro Ronda Marrero, “General de los Pinchos Duros,” and Vice-Admiral Julio Cesar Gandarilla, Chief of the Military Counter-Intelligence.
(1) Information on Venezuela-Cuba military cooperation with the Colombian guerrillas was provided by a MININT defector. In early March 2014, the author interviewed in Miami this former MININT officer. The officer traveled several times to safe areas in Venezuela with General Andollo to meet with high ranking “comandantes” of Colombia’s narco-guerrilla protected by the Cartel de los Soles. Also, two other high ranking Venezuelan officers interviewed for this report confirmed the Cuban involvement.
(2) The term “Cartel de los Soles” was reportedly first used in 1993 when two National Guard generals, anti-drug chief Ramon Guillen Davila and his successor Orlando Hernandez Villegas, were investigated for drug trafficking and other related crimes. As brigade commanders, each wore a single sun as insignia on their shoulders, giving rise to the name Cartel of the Sun (later on, when allegations emerged that division commanders- given double suns in their ranking- were involved in the drug trade, the term became the “Cartel de los Soles ”).
(3) United States District Court Southern District of Florida. NO 82-643 Cr-JE. There is no pending case since the defendant, Aldo Santamaria, was not apprehended in Cuba to stand trial in Florida and later passed away.
(4) At the time, Sandinista Daniel Ortega was the Head of Government.
(5) At the time, General Manuel Noriega was the Head of Government.
(6) Fernandez, Ralph. “Historical Assessment of Terrorist Activity and Narcotic Trafficking by the Republic of Cuba.” Fernandez & Diaz, P.A. 2003.
(7) Treasury Targets Venezuelan Government Officials Supporting the FARC. U.S. Department of the Treasury. September 12, 2008
(8) Treasury Targets Venezuelan Narcotics Trafficker. U.S. Department of the Treasury. August 21, 2013.
(9)Treasury Targets Venezuelan Government Officials Supporting the FARC, 2008.
(11) Treasury Designated Four Venezuelan Officials for Providing Arms and Security to the FARC. U.S. Department of the Treasury. September 08, 2011.
(14) Poleo, Patricia. “Lista de Oficiales Implicados por Walid Makled. El Nuevo Pais. November 13, 2010.
(15) Montaner, Carlos Alberto. “Cuba: The Selling of a Nation.” The Miami Herald. February 3, 2014.
*Pedro Roig is senior research associate and lecturer at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban- American Studies, University of Miami. Dr. Roig has taught Cuban history courses at various institutions and was former director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) – Radio & TV Marti. He holds a Masters of Arts degree from University of Miami and a Juris Doctor Degree from St. Thomas University. He has written several books including “The Death of a Dream: A History of Cuba” and “Marti: The Cuban Struggle for Freedom.” He is a veteran of the Brigade 2506.
About the Author
Mychal S. Massie is an ordained minister who spent 13 years in full-time Christian Ministry. Today he serves as founder and Chairman of the Racial Policy Center (RPC), a think tank he officially founded in September 2015. RPC advocates for a colorblind society. He was founder and president of the non-profit “In His Name Ministries.” He is the former National Chairman of a conservative Capitol Hill think tank; and a former member of the think tank National Center for Public Policy Research. Read entire bio here