Mexico City, Mexico, March 21, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government ruled out direct talks with self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaidó after National Assembly President Jorge Rodríguez revealed links between the US-backed opposition figure and alleged narco trafficking kingpin Biaggio Benito Garófalo Forte.
“We are not going to meet with Juan Guaidó. We do not meet with drug traffickers. We put drug traffickers in jail,” Rodríguez told reporters Friday.
Colombian authorities allege that Garófalo, who is dual citizen of Italy and Venezuela, entered the country irregularly via the border state of La Guajira. He was subsequently detained in the city of Cartagena on March 14 after Colombian migration services determined he was wanted on an INTERPOL Red notice, issued at Spain’s request.
In his press conference, Rodríguez shared images from early 2019 of Guaidó drinking and celebrating at a home purportedly belonging to Garófalo in the Venezuelan city of Anaco. Rodríguez also showed a letter allegedly signed by the opposition politician in 2016 naming Garófalo as local coordinator for the city of Anaco for his Popular Will party.
The National Assembly president further charged that Garófalo was the “main financier” of Popular Will and revealed alleged conversations between former opposition lawmaker Franco Casella and Marco Aurelio Quiñones, the head of Guaidó’s party in the previous parliamentary legislature.
In the messages, Casella signaled his concern that Garófalo’s detention could expose the party. Quiñones told Casella not to worry and abstain from feeling “paranoid” since there was no proof of Garófalo’s ties to Popular Will, claiming that he was careful “from day one.”
Casella subsequently shared a picture showing key figures from Popular Will posing alongside Garófalo, and claimed he had seen pictures of Guaidó himself with Garófalo, allegedly taken at the latter’s home in Anaco during a party. Finally, Quiñones reportedly expressed disappointment and conceded that it would be a big problem if those photos were to leak.
In a Twitter thread, Quiñones denied the allegations, calling it an “absurd story” and claimed that the chats were a hoax. Guaidó’s team did not respond to press inquiries about the allegations, instead posting allegations concerning the Venezuelan government’s alleged ties to organized crime claimed by Washington.
Guaidó has been previously linked with elements of organized crime, most infamously having crossed into Colombia ahead of the “humanitarian aid” effort in 2019 with the help of paramilitary outfit Los Rastrojos. In a photo taken on February 22, 2019 he was pictured with Los Rastrojos leaders Albeiro Lobo Quintero y John Jairo Durán. The group is reportedly involved in a range of illicit activities along the Colombo-Venezuelan border, including drug trafficking, smuggling, illegal mining, extortion, and targeted killings.
The latest revelations against Guaidó and his Popular Will party come as the Venezuelan government prepares to resume talks in Mexico City with opposition factions. President Nicolás Maduro pledged to restart the dialogue process following a first-contact meeting with officials from the United States government.
Maduro had previously committed to make the talks more “inclusive” and include “all political, economic, and religious sectors.”
However, the statements made by Rodríguez, a high-ranking Chavista and lead member of the government’s delegation in talks with the opposition, appeared to indicate that Guaidó’s hardline party would be excluded.
The increasingly embattled and isolated US-backed opposition leader appears to be losing favor in Washington, with the Biden White House reportedly considering a change in its approach toward Venezuela.
Biden had largely maintained his predecessor’s “maximum pressure” policy aimed at ousting Maduro until the Ukraine conflict led Washington to order the suspension of Russian oil imports. With rising energy prices threatening to create a domestic crisis for Biden, the White House dispatched a high-level delegation to Caracas to meet directly with President Maduro, shunning Guaidó.
Since then, however, US officials have faced backlash and backtracked on the depth of the negotiations with the South American country.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.