Venezuela's Top National Guard Chief Charged With Drug Trafficking in U.S.

Venezuelan protesters have argued for years that top government officials are tied into the drug trade. A wave of U.S. arrests has backed up those claims.
Venezuelan protesters have argued for years that top government officials are tied into the drug trade. A wave of U.S. arrests has backed up those claims.

Venezuela's Chavista President Nicolás Maduro took a crushing loss at the polls earlier this month to opposition parties that say his government is horribly corrupt. This morning, U.S. prosecutors are dealing him another vicious body blow. 

One of Maduro's top military leaders — Néstor Reverol, head of the country's national guard — will be charged in federal court later this morning with drug trafficking. Reverol is the biggest name yet in a wave of arrests that has already taken two of Maduro's nephews and several former top intelligence and narcotics officials.  

Reverol has been a top figure in Venezuelan affairs dating back to Hugo Chávez's revolutionary governments. Ironically, he once headed up Venezuela's anti-drug agency and served as minister of the interior. 

U.S. prosecutors say he had another, far more profitable job, though: Working as a mole for the drug kingpins who have made Venezuela the launching point for massive shipments of cocaine. The indictment, which will be unsealed later this morning, accuses Reverol and a former colleague in the anti-drug unit, Edilberto Molina, of tipping off cartels to impending raids and quashing investigations. 

The charges echo a series of arrests in Maduro's inner circle. Last month, two of the president's nephews were nabbed by U.S. authorities in Haiti where they were allegedly putting the finishing touches on a plot to smuggle 800 kilos of coke through Honduras

In September, Wifredo Ferrer, the top prosecutor at the U.S. Southern District of Florida courthouse, charged two other former top officials: Jesús Alfredo Itriago, an ex-narcotics investigator, and Pedro Luis Martin, an intelligence operative, with drug trafficking.

More cases could be coming. For months, rumors have swirled that Diosdado Cabello, arguably the second-most powerful politician in Caracas, could be charged in the crackdown. Cabello has problems at home as well; his time as head of the National Assembly is likely over thanks to the sweeping opposition wins this month.

"After winning the national assembly, one of the first steps is change of the leadership," Janette Gonzalez, U.S. director of VEPPEX, an organization of Venezuelan political exiles, told a New Times reporter earlier this month. "Diosdado won't be the head of the Congress under the new government."  


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