In Venezuela, all eyes are on a security expert named Leamsy Salazar. Salazar once worked on the personal detail of Diosdado Cabello, the second-most powerful politician in Venezuela -- that is until he bolted for Washington, D.C. Now, rumor has it that Salazar is about to finger Cabello as the head of a massive international drug ring, a story Venezuela's ruling elite has fiercely disputed all week.
What's not in question, though, is that Venezuela has moved up the ranks to become among the world's biggest drug traffickers. Two new federal cases in Miami this week spell out how closely Miami's own drug trade is tied to the Bolivarian Republic.
Both cases, which were first reported on by El Nuevo Herald, involve local traffickers busted on tape fingering Venezuelans as their source for both cocaine and ecstasy. And while neither case involves eye-popping amounts of drugs, they each show how the Caracas-Miami drug link has become increasingly strong.
The first case went down December 18 at a local Pollo Tropical, according to documents in federal court.
That's where undercover agents met with a drug courier named Merlin Manzo Garcia, who'd been caught earlier contacting a federal snitch about an incoming cocaine shipment. The snitch and Garcia met at the fast-food restaurant in Miami Springs and then moved to a car -- which the feds had wired -- to hand off a shipment of 21 kilos of coke.
As the feds listened in, the men called their supplier, an unnamed drug boss in Venezuela.
The second case went down January 7 at Miami International Airport. That's when a traveler from Venezuela named Daniel Borrero Vasquez caught the attention of customs agents when he acted nervous and couldn't explain why he was traveling to Miami.
They searched him and found a bag full of powder taped to his groin; the agents soon ID'd the powder as ecstasy.
The agents persuaded Borrero to tell his contact in Miami that all had gone smoothly, and then they soon nabbed his middleman: a man named Jose Andrade. The pair eventually admitted that Borrero had made regular trips to Venezuela to smuggle back ecstasy.
As for the larger allegations against Cabello, the government has confirmed that Salazar, the ex-security man for the head of Venezuela's National Assembly, has indeed fled to the United States.
Experts tell the Miami Herald that allegations about his ties to the drug trade at least pass the smell test. Drug analysts have shown a strong link between Venezuela's military and drug traffickers, and Cabello is a top leader of military factions.
President Nicolás Maduro, though, says the allegations are an American plot to undermine his regime. Salazar himself has yet to be heard from publicly.
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