Friday, April 20, 2012

Inside Chavez's Kleptocracy

Tonight a small but enterprising Miami-based TV network, SoiTV, will air a revealing interview with former Venezuelan Supreme Court Justice Eladio Aponte Aponte, who has been under the protection of the U.S. DEA for several days. The authors of this article had access to the interview results.

Judge Aponte Aponte is, so far, the highest official who has defected since Hugo Chávez came to power. His testimony presents a unique view into the criminal structure promoted by the current Venezuelan government. Aponte also names individuals who have committed serious violations of Venezuelan human rights and attacks on foreign interests.

Mr. Aponte confessed that he received direct orders from President Hugo Chávez to use his legal power against individuals that opposed the regime. As president of the criminal tribunal of the Supreme Court, Aponte had supervision of all criminal courts in the country and practically on all judges, with a capacity to influence almost any judicial decision.

Moreover, in his testimony Mr. Aponte says he also received calls from Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, Venezuela's Defense Minister and Hugo Carvajal, who until recently was the head of military intelligence, among others, ordering him to "manipulate judicial proceedings." Both Rangel Silva and Carvajal have been designated by the U.S. Treasury as "drug kingpins" for their ties to the narco-terrorist FARC guerrilla army in Colombia. Moreover, Aponte alleges that he has "evidence" of the high officials' ties to narcotics traffickers. An example he cites is that of a drug shipment that was safeguarded overnight in a Venezuelan military base. Aponte says he was ordered to provide legal cover for the drug shipment as it made its way from the border to "the center of the country" (on the coast, where Venezuela's ports are located).

Aponte also admits to having been linked to other important figures designated by the U.S. Department of Treasury as international drug traffickers, such as Walid Makled who, according to a federal indictment in New York, sent hundreds of tons of cocaine into the U.S. with the help of top-ranking Venezuelan officials. Makled's "trial" began a few days ago in Venezuela.

It was, in fact, Aponte's link to Makled that led to Aponte's removal from the Supreme Court by the General Assembly of Venezuela and his subsequent defection to Costa Rica, where the DEA picked Aponte up. Makled had been arrested in Colombia nearly two years ago and extradited to Venezuela in 2011. While in a Colombian prison, Makled was interviewed by various U.S. law enforcement agencies, and his testimony implicated Aponte in drug trafficking. Since Chávez has had Makled in his jails for nearly a year, Chávez knew what Makled was going to say at his trial about Aponte, and therefore Aponte had to be "sacrificed" to save Chávez and what the Venezuelan people call his "narco-generals."

Numerous reports from the U.S. State Department and international human rights monitors indicate that the Venezuelan judicial system is used by the President Chávez as a tool to punish and persecute opposition leaders, as well as to obtain the release of drug traffickers.

Aponte's testimony is probably the most important evidence so far to show the lack of independent institutions in Venezuela, the existence of political prisoners, and the links between high-ranking members of the Venezuelan government to drug trafficking and criminal organizations such as Colombia's FARC.

Otto J. Reich is president of the consulting firm Otto Reich & Associates LLC. He is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, and U.S. ambassador to Venezuela. Follow him on Twitter: @ottoreich

Of course, Hugo & his minions claim that all of the above is just another Yankee conspiracy

Friday, April 6, 2012

Hasta Cuando?

from The Telegraph
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez wept and asked God to spare his life during a pre-Easter Mass on Thursday after returning from his latest session of cancer treatment in Cuba.

Very little is known about the 57-year-old socialist leader's condition, including even what type of cancer he has. Chavez has undergone three operations in less than a year, and received two sessions of radiation treatment.

He says the latest surgery was successful, that he is recovering well and will be fit to win a new six-year term at an election in October. Yet big questions remain about his future, and on Thursday the strain appeared to show.

In a televised speech to the Catholic service in his home state of Barinas, Chavez cried and his voice broke as he eulogised Jesus, revolutionary fighter Ernesto "Che" Guevara and South American independence hero Simon Bolivar.

"Never forget that we are the children of giants ... I could not avoid some tears," the former soldier said, his parents and other relatives looking on from the church rows.

"Give me your crown, Jesus. Give me your cross, your thorns so that I may bleed. But give me life, because I have more to do for this country and these people. Do not take me yet," Chavez added, standing below an image of Jesus with the Crucifix.

Flying back and forth to Havana for the radiation therapy, Chavez has been forced to run a kind of "virtual" campaign via Twitter and appearances on state television, while his opposition rival Henrique Capriles tours the country.

In his speech at the Mass, Chavez soon seemed to recover his composure, joking with his brother Adan in the congregation that few people were watching because it was the Easter holiday, when Venezuelans typically hit the country's beautiful beaches.

Chavez said he had a lot of faith that his cancer would not return after his first two operations last year – which removed a baseball sized tumour from his pelvis – but it did.

"Today, I have more faith than yesterday," he said.

"Life has been a hurricane ... but a couple of years ago my life began to become not my own anymore," the president said. "Who said the path of revolution would be easy?"

He returned to Barinas late on Wednesday from Havana, where he had undergone a second session of radiation therapy. He said it went well and that all the test results had been positive.

But in the absence of detailed information on his condition, Venezuelans have hunted for clues in his appearance each time he is on state TV. One local news website ran a large photo of his heavily perspiring brow after he disembarked from the jet.

One Venezuelan opposition journalist who has broken news on Chavez's condition in the past reported that his medical team continued to disagree among themselves over the best course, and a Brazilian blogger said he might travel there for treatment.

Chavez's election rival, Capriles, has mostly kept quiet about the president's illness, preferring to wish him a speedy recovery so that he can beat him in a fair fight at the polls.

But the youthful state government has criticised Chavez for choosing to be treated abroad, saying it sends a bad message to ordinary Venezuelans if he does not trust local doctors.

Capriles, 39, took issue this week with repeated comments by Chavez and his allies that Jesus must have been a fellow leftist radical.

"This theme is an obsession of the eternal candidate," Capriles said on Twitter, referring to Chavez. "This Holy Week, we should remember Christ was neither socialist nor capitalist."

In the latest opinion poll released last month, the president had a solid 13-percentage point lead over his opponent, but many voters remained undecided.