Caracas, January 31, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Two mayors, two National Assembly (AN) deputies and a number of alleged accomplices were arrested in high-profile security stings last week.
Official communiques in recent days informed of the developments under the operation codenamed “Iron Fist.”
On Thursday, Keyrineth Fernández, mayor of the Jesús María Semprún municipality in Zulia state, was detained in Cumarebo, Falcón state, carrying a reported seven kilos of cocaine in her car. Fernández was reelected in the November 21 regional “mega-elections” on the ruling Socialist Party (PSUV) ticket amidst accusations of fraud and irregularities.
According to Venezuela’s Anti-Drug Superintendency (SUNAD), the arrest was one of several that dealt “a heavy blow to a drug trafficking ring that operated in Zulia and Falcón states.”
“Investigations remain ongoing and might lead to new arrests that will be reported in due time,” the statement read, adding that security and intelligence agencies were waging a “fight against drug trafficking and corruption” in Venezuelan territory.
Taina González, PSUV deputy from Zulia state, was likewise arrested last Thursday. One of González’s and Fernández’s alleged collaborators was Luis Viloria Chirinos. Though the SUNAD communique refers to him as a deputy from Táchira state, Viloria ran on the opposition Venezuela First ticket for Trujillo state in the December 2020 legislative contests but was not elected.
Viloria, who in the past has reportedly served in advisory roles with opposition politicians including former AN President Luis Parra, was arrested in November 2021 in the possession of 400 kilos of cocaine in La Guaira state.
Captured with the political operative at the time were also Robert De Jesús Montaña Viloria (no relation) and Victor Cano Páez. Unofficial sources claim Cano Paéz, a Colombian national, works for Colombian drug trafficking group “Timberland 404.” Timberland 404 would be moving cocaine into Venezuelan territory to sell or export to other destinations. The same sources place Montaña Viloria as the operation’s “mastermind” and the person responsible for recruiting public officials into the network.
Alternative outlets such as La Tabla claimed a second National Assembly deputy, Jeycar Pérez from Apure state, was also a member of the criminal ring and was placed in custody on January 6. Pérez belongs to the Authentic Renewal Organization (ORA) party, an evangelical political organization that historically has allied itself with the PSUV.
Giancarlo di Martino, Zulia politician who has served in a number of posts, wrote on Twitter that there had been 16 arrests so far, and that it was Pérez’s testimony that led to the latest bust. He likewise reported the detention of another politician, local councilman Jean Carlos Silva from Táchira state. Silva belongs to the PODEMOS party, another PSUV electoral ally.
At the time of writing, judicial authorities have not disclosed the charges facing those detained in the operation.
The anti-drug crackdown announcements were soon followed by a press release documenting efforts to break down a fuel smuggling group in eastern Venezuela. The developments were placed under the “Iron Fist” operation as well.
“A dangerous network dedicated to the extraction, smuggling and illegal sale of fuel in Anzoátegui state has been dismantled,” read the communique from the Alí Rodríguez Araque commission, a presidential-appointed body tasked with revamping the country’s oil industry.
The statement mentioned a handful of high-profile arrests on Friday, among them Carlos Rafael Vidal, PSUV mayor of Independencia municipality in Anzoátegui state; Manoel Gil da Silva, state prosecutor from Bolívar state; and National Guard captain Antonio Barrios González.
“The Alí Rodriguez Araque Presidential Commission rejects the shameful participation of state officials in these crimes against the nation. […] There will be no truce in the fight against corruption,” the text goes on to say.
Vidal, like Fernández, was recently elected for a second term in the approximately 30,000-people town in Anzoátegui state. Venezuela’s electoral authorities have not commented on the arrests, with legislation demanding that new elections be held for the posts.
Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab later confirmed that the operation against fuel smuggling “mafias” in Anzoátegui and Bolívar states had led to 13 arrests in total. He stated that those apprehended would face charges including terrorism, embezzlement, contraband, corruption and criminal association.
President Nicolás Maduro had called on judicial authorities to set sights on fuel smuggling in his annual address before the National Assembly on January 15.
The high-profile arrests sparked debate on social media and immediate reactions from some PSUV leading figures.
“There will be no compromising with criminals,” PSUV Vice President and AN Deputy Diosdado Cabello tweeted on Friday. “We should have zero tolerance with corrupt officials, no matter who they are.”