On a weekday this past July, Ramos — now a frail-looking man in a drab olive jumpsuit — limped into a cavelike courtroom at Miami's federal courthouse. He had been in jail only seven months but looked much older than his 63 years. He had pleaded guilty to extortion and money laundering on April 11 but had yet to be sentenced.

He is among the first corrupt Chávez officials nabbed by the FBI since the president took power in Venezuela 12 years ago; several other cases have implicated members of the inner circle. In 2008, Venezuelan businessman Franklin Duran was caught in Buenos Aires delivering a briefcase full of $800,000 cash to representatives of Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, supposedly on behalf of Chávez. And since his arrest last year, alleged drug lord Walid Makled-García has said he has documentation showing Venezuelan officials helped him amass his $1.2 billion narco-fortune. In other words, Ramos won't be the last Chavista tried in the United States.

"Your honor, with all due respect, I am here before you not as a young man full of outrageous ideas or ignorant of my actions," Ramos told U.S. District Court Judge Adalberto Jordan in a deep, nasal wheeze. "I threw away all my credibility... for the possibility of a comfortable retirement and more money."

Banker Eligio Cedeño was imprisoned for three years without a conviction.
George Martinez
Banker Eligio Cedeño was imprisoned for three years without a conviction.
Broker Tomás Vásquez Estrella wore a wire to help the FBI arrest a Venezuelan official who was extorting him.
George Martinez
Broker Tomás Vásquez Estrella wore a wire to help the FBI arrest a Venezuelan official who was extorting him.

Ramos paused, his amplified breaths filling the deathly quiet courtroom like Darth Vader. "I was looking for a solution that would make everybody happy, including myself," Ramos said. "However, I didn't think at the time [I] would... turn my back on everything that I had done throughout my life."

On a bench near the back of the courtroom, Ramos's wife wept behind oversize sunglasses. She and their daughter, beside her, both clutched pocket Bibles. Ramos's son, nearer to the docket, stared ahead angrily.

"This has brought my family, my children, problems like loss of employment and problems with the [Venezuelan] regime that is unfortunately in power at this time."

Five minutes later, Judge Jordan sentenced Ramos to 27 months in prison, with eight already served.

"I was angry when I first heard about his sentence," Vásquez admitted later. "The judge was lenient. But his children were run out of their jobs, and his family has been threatened."

Weeks after Ramos's sentencing, Cedeño stands on his 43rd-floor terrace and gazes at the bay. The view from Brickell Key is breathtaking. To the South, Virginia Key glows like an emerald. Dead-calm, dark-blue water leads due east to Fisher Island. But to the north, a thunderstorm hovers over Miami Beach.

"It was important for me not to be just staring at the ocean," Cedeño says. He needs lights, people, places to distract him from thoughts of those endlessly black nights in the Helicoide. He arrived in Miami almost two years ago, after the peñero ride to Curaçao, where a private plane awaited him.

"For some reason, the immigration officer in Curaçao didn't ask to look at my passport," he says. "If he had, they would have returned me to Venezuela. I think it was a sign from the bearded guy in the sky."

Divine intervention or not, Cedeño's ordeal wasn't over when he arrived at Miami International Airport. He was detained for five hours at the airport and then transferred to Krome Detention Center. Two days later, an immigration judge ordered Cedeño released.

He walked out of Krome a free man at last, and his American attorney, Victor Cerda, drove him the agonizingly slow 20 miles to Brickell Key, where his family awaited him. They had left Venezuela a week before, unaware of his whereabouts or his incredible journey to freedom. Now they met him at the door: 20-year-old Jesús, 4-year-old Valeria in his wife's arms, and 10-year-old Mariemilia holding a bouquet of daisies.

"I remember everything about that moment," Cedeño says. "Everything."

So does his wife Eliana. "There is so much uncertainty when the person you love is in prison," she says, her voice breaking. "You're used to going to bed each night as a couple. When he's not there, you're terrified what is happening to him... There were so many times that I thought he would get out, but he didn't. You feel powerless."

"We didn't know what would happen to him at Krome," she says of her husband's dramatic escape from Venezuela. "Chávez was on TV saying that he would bring him back."

Cedeño's legal limbo finally ended May 18, when a judge awarded him political asylum. He's one of about 1,500 Venezuelans awarded that status in the past nine years. In Cedeño's mind, America is everything that Venezuela is not under Chávez.

"Here the laws are respected," he says. "That's why I chose this country.

"I can't go back to Venezuela," he admits. "At least not until Chávez leaves." Unthinkable only a few years ago, the president's ouster looks like a real possibility during next year's election. Last September, Chávez's socialist party garnered only 48 percent of the popular vote in a national election. Even some of Chávez's staunchest international supporters have begun abandoning the president.

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31 comments
USA1
USA1

Verdad que abrir una pagina y toparse con la jeta de mono del tipejo de Chavez, es terrorismo mediatico.

Paz-y-union-para-venezuela
Paz-y-union-para-venezuela

la verdad no se puede tapar con un dedo, SR CEDEÑO QUE DIOS LO BENDIGA, GUIE SU CORAZON, gente buena que no se presto para vender este pais, que no se humilla, que quiere vivir libre, que saLe de la pobreza, puede tener errores, quien no es humano verdad? donde hay justicia los errores se pagan pero cuando se quiere hacer el daño por no servirle al proposito del que cree ser dueño entonces vemos UNA INMENSA INJUSTICIA COMO ESTA DIOS TE BENDIGA, DIOS VENDIGA VENEZUELA, PAZ Y CERENIDAD,

Pidolapazparavenezuela
Pidolapazparavenezuela

la verdad no se puede tapar con un dedo, SR CEDEÑO QUE DIOS LO BENDIGA, GUIE SU CORAZON, gente buena que no se presto para vender este pais, que no se humilla, que quiere vivir libre, que saLe de la pobreza, puede tener errores, quien no es humano verdad? donde hay justicia los errores se pagan pero cuando se quiere hacer el daño por no servirle al proposito del que cree ser dueño entonces vemos UNA INMENSA INJUSTICIA COMO ESTA DIOS TE BENDIGA, DIOS VENDIGA VENEZUELA, PAZ Y CERENIDAD,

Unomas
Unomas

la verdad no se puede tapar con un dedo, SR CEDEÑO QUE DIOS LO BENDIGA, GUIE SU CORAZON, gente buena que no se presto para vender este pais, que no se humilla, que quiere vivir libre, que saLe de la pobreza, puede tener errores, quien no es humano verdad? donde hay justicia los errores se pagan pero cuando se quiere hacer el daño por no servirle al proposito del que cree ser dueño entonces vemos UNA INMENSA INJUSTICIA COMO ESTA DIOS TE BENDIGA, DIOS VENDIGA VENEZUELA, PAZ Y CERENIDAD,

allen
allen

How long you going to keep this stupid same story as fresh news?Your page is real stale.

Billmart
Billmart

Existen miles de ladronees de marca mayor en el exilio en Miami y similar a este tipo. Porque este reportero y este periodico se identifican con esta clase de gente ??? ... porque pretenden que sintamos lastima por esa clase de peces gordos, ladrones y corruptos vendepatrias ???

fagchavez
fagchavez

jajaja. vendepatrias solo porque no quieren aceptar unos cargos falsos que les impuso la marica de chavez? por favor...

USA1
USA1

Co mo tu!. Besa k.u.l.o comunista y cobarde asqueroso. vete pa'l ca.ra.jo.!

Billmart
Billmart

Well, I read the whole history, before realize it was written by the Miami NewTimes News, nothing really new from biases kind of newspaper and similar to The Miami Herald style. Why we do not see the same type of news in any other newspaper around the country ??? ... well, those are maybe a littel more serious kind of media, right !!

rodrigo
rodrigo

Sometimes not all newspapers have interest that is truthful, investigative journalists still exist that perform deep investigations of cases that people only mention what is said officially, without knowing the truth of the facts.

Bridget
Bridget

Tomas Vasquez is a THIEF, you sir were taken for a fool on this article. While Eligio civil rights were most definitely violated to put that thief in the same category is ridicoulous.

fernado briceno
fernado briceno

Ladron es Ramos y su combo, pero ha esos si no los nombran, que se aprovecharon de toda esta situacion para saquear a las Casas de Bolsa en Venezuela

adolfo rodriguez
adolfo rodriguez

How easy it is to write the word thief without putting your full name, at least put it, and be more courageous is very easy to point.

Required my ass
Required my ass

Interpol just removed him from their Red List. If the authorities don't think he's a thief, why do you? And why would a thief go to the authorities to help convict a blackmailer? Sounds like you're buying into Chavez propaganda.

MrChe
MrChe

Cedeno looks like Chavez, i wonder now maybe chavez had a son with another woman.. thats why Cedeno is pissed...hah..at the end i dont cinpatized with Cedeno... He is a banker... come on.. he is living the life in Miami with all his Venezualans agry friends..and Chavez he is a jackass..

Pepe
Pepe

This guy is as corrupt as chavez is. So don't listen to any of this marketing article

pat mourassa
pat mourassa

And we should feel sorry for that BANKER THIEF.

raymon v
raymon v

NOBODY COMPLAINTS ABOUT CHAVEZ, HE IS AN ANGEL. LOVE YOU PAPI

raymon v
raymon v

VIVA HUGO, VIVA FIDEL, VIVA LA REVOLUCION

Yolomato
Yolomato

pura paja lo que sale de esa boca sucia que tienes!!!!! SILENCIO BECERRO!!!! ya caeran o moriran tus heroes!

raymon v
raymon v

paja en tu boca marica come pinga capitalista

Trerer
Trerer

I wonder HOW did he fly the glider... is not as easy as they said here. They dont said either he knew how to

Iceberg
Iceberg

i'm sick of all these venezuelans bitching all the time about chavez....why don't they go back and do something about it, instead of yelling and complaining from the comfort of their doral estates!!!

Marymarina
Marymarina

THE USA have become the Venezuelan's corrupt bankers paradise....they come to the USA looking for political asylum..with multi million dollars bank accounts... and they get the "GREEN CARDS"... Not all Venezuelan's bankers are corrupt and some of them have made a legitimate fortune...but most of them are bandits and their moneys are not legal....who cares..they USA give them GREEN CARDS...

Pentacles9
Pentacles9

Unfortunately, it is the bankers who have caused the global economic crisis. I have no sympathy for bankers, especially after the bailout which occured here in the US, at taxpayer expense. These criminals basically robbed us taxpayers so they can continue to play casino with our economy, and the economies of other countries. It is not socialism, capitalism, or any ism, it is power purchased with money in corrupt hands which has ruined the world.

Johnvicario
Johnvicario

i wonder how Mr. Cedeno made such a fortune.....only in such a corrupt country that happens.. I am agains Chavez...but he has been right in sending to jail so many bankers that had made fortunes in only a couple of year....ironically, the once that escape from Venezuela come to Miami and apply for an assylum VISA., that so far have been granted by the USA to so many corrupt Venezuelan bankers...So if you have a lot of money...no matter how you made it..and you are "lucky enough" to be a Chavez enemy...you ran away and get the american dream..A big house.. expensive car....shopping designer clothes...wearing expensive jewerly...and with a GREEN CARD.....THE US Goverment should be more selective granting those visas...

Sfuh Ugd
Sfuh Ugd

i wonder how Mr. Cedeno made such a fortune.....only in such a corrupt country that happens..WHAT? ARE YOU SERIOUS...LOL...HE OWNS A BANK GIVE ME A BREAK.

I am agains Chavez...but he has been right in sending to jail so many bankers that had made fortunes in only a couple of year....YOU DONT KNOW WHAT YOURE TALKING ABOUT I BET YOU DONT EVEN KNOW WHERE VENEZUELA IS IN A MAP

ironically, the once that escape from Venezuela come to Miami and apply for an assylum VISA., that so far have been granted by the USA to so many corrupt Venezuelan bankers...THEYRE NOT GRANTED A VISA BECAUSE THEY APPLY FOR AN ASSYLUM THEYRE GRANTED A VISA BECAUSE THEY HAVE MILLIONS OF DOLLARS AND INVESTMENT PROPERTIES IN THE U.S. AND THEY PAY UNCLE SAM EVERY YEAR

So if you have a lot of money...no matter how you made it..and you are "lucky enough" to be a Chavez enemy...you ran away and get the american dream..WHAT? LOL. WHAT AMERICAN DREAM THESE PEOPLE HAVE MANY HOUSES IN MANY COUNTRIES AND TONS OF MILLIONS THERES NO AMERICAN DREAM, AMERICAN DREAM IS ONLY FOR POOR PEOPLE LIKE YOU

A big house.. expensive car....shopping designer clothes...wearing expensive jewerly...and with a GREEN CARD.....HE'S HAD ALL THOSE EXPENSIVE THINGS SINCE HE WAS BORN OR YOU THINK HE HASNT? DO YOUR RESEARCH HE COMES FROM A RICH FAMILY

THE US Goverment should be more selective granting those visas...BABY THE US GOVERNMENT WORKS LIKE THIS: YOU PAY, YOU GET.

MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHAT YOURE TALKING ABOUT BEFORE TALKIN SHIT ABOUT US VENEZUELANS!

Geap1944
Geap1944

This is the same Chavista innuendo that the blogger writes. Some of his bankers turned out to be corrupt, so to confuse public opinion he intervenes most banks and brokerage firms so that some get confused and can't distinguish between the honest ones and the corrupt ones. Next thing you have people saying that if he is a banker, then he must be corrupt, without presenting any evidence.

USA1
USA1

America Letrina

Juan Carlos P
Juan Carlos P

Watch you are becoming part of it you live in the same continent asshole! UNITED SUCKS OF AMERICA

 
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