Mérida, April 5th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – More accusations by accused drug trafficker, Walid Makled, have led to mainstream media calling Venezuela a “drug state”, amidst a political struggle between the U.S. and Venezuela over Makled’s extradition.
Latest Accusations by Makled
Makled, a Venezuelan businessman who was arrested in Colombia last August, is accused of drug trafficking by the United States and of the same – as well as money laundering and involvement in three separate murders including two Venezuelan journalists who were investigating his economic assets and possible ties to the drug trade – by Venezuela. Hence, both countries are seeking his extradition, though so far, Colombia has promised to extradite him to Venezuela, who made the request first.
After his arrest, Makled accused a number of high-ranking members of the Venezuelan government of participating in his illegal networks, including the director of Venezuela’s National Anti-Drug Office (ONA), Néstor Reverol, as well as Army General Henry Rangel Silva. Makled has also declared that he helped finance the 2007 constitutional reform campaign of the Chavez government.
Speaking from prison last week to the Aqui y Ahora program of the U.S. Spanish-language Univision television network, Makled further elaborated on some of his original accusations, fuelling a new media spree on the issue.
Makled told the program he had contracts with Petroquimica de Venezuela (Pequiven, a state owned petrochemical company) and that there were five legislators on his payroll. In response to a question about what type of favours they did for him, Makled only responded “Anything that was needed."
He also claimed he had 40 generals from the Venezuelan Armed Forces on his payroll.
“They were all my friends,” he explained. He said that Venezuela is a “narco-state” because, “5 or 6 planes loaded with cocaine would fly from Apure [state in Venezuela] to Honduras, then to Mexico, and from there to the United States.”
Aqui y Ahora did not mention that in 2005 the president of Pequiven, Saul Ameliach, denounced Makled for diverting chemical substances to Colombia, nor that the Venezuelan National Anti-drug Office (ONA), together with the District Attorney, had launched an investigation into Makled’s illegal affairs.
In response to the question, “And was there official participation in this [drug trafficking?” Makled said, “100%, of course, because it’s Venezuelan territory”, and later said he had access to an international port and the “most important port in Venezuela” because he had permissions granted to him by the national government.
The interviewer did not ask Makled if he considered the U.S. a “narco-state”, given how many drugs are sold and bought there.
Makled’s answers were short. In response to the question, “How did you manage to climb to such a high level in the Venezuelan government, the government of Hugo Chavez?” Makled responded “I worked with the Chavez government for eight years, not four like they said”.
“What work did you do?” he was asked. “Many things. You understand?” he replied.
The interview concluded with the question, “You have said you have enough proof to achieve the fall of the Chavez government, what you are referring to?”
“Too many things. Many. And it’s strong proof,” was Makled’s complete response. At no point in the interview did the program ask Makled about drug links and operations in Colombia, despite the country’s well known role in the international drug trade.
U.S. Interest in the Case
On 4 November last year a federal court in New York charged Makled with one count of conspiracy to import cocaine to the United States after the U.S. government classified Makled one of the world’s most significant drug kingpins under the U.S. Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, citing his participation three years earlier in the transporting of five tonnes of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico.
Speaking to the charge against Makled, outspoken anti-Chavez U.S. congressman Connie Mack told the Miami Herald, “If we could get Makled here [to the U.S.], I think he could provide a lot of evidence about the Venezuelan government’s involvement in narco-trafficking”.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said the U.S.’s attempts to extradite Makled were politically motivated, “The empire’s game here is to offer who knows how many opportunities to this man, including protection, so that he may begin to vomit out all he wants against Venezuela and the [Venezuelan] president,” he said.
Chavez accused the U.S. of seeking to “use” the Makled case to take Venezuela “to an international criminal court.”
Then, last week, U.S Republican Senator Richard Lugar asked Colombian president Juan Santos to reconsider to where Makled will be extradited.
“Should [Makled] be extradited to Venezuela, the Department of Justice and the DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] would be unable to use the information he has already provided to them to legally dismantle some of the most important drug networks in the world today,” Lugar said in a press release.
Venezuela severed ties with the DEA in 2005 on suspicion that the agency was spying. Since then, Venezuela’s National Drug Office (ONA) has reported an increase of both drug-related detentions and illegal drugs confiscated.
According to the ONA, Venezuelan authorities have decommissioned 12.59 tonnes of drugs so far this year – between 1 January and 31 March.
Mainstream Media Use of the Issue to Demonise the Venezuelan Government
Internationally, over the last week, hundreds of articles in English and Spanish have been published on the Makled case, including pieces in the Washington Post, Miami Herald, Fox News, and Associated Press.
Most articles have focused on the supposed association between the Venezuelan government and drug smuggling, and the supposed importance that Makled be extradited to the U.S. rather than Venezuela. Fox News headlined with, “Opinion: Makled must be tried in the United States, not in Venezuela”, while the Associated Press opened with, “Jailed ‘kingpin’ implicated Chavez government”.
In Venezuela, private media has focused more on the investigations of Makled and the details of the case, though Globovision, the main opposition news channel, headlined with “Walid Makled: the stone in the shoe of president Chavez”, and opposition legislator, Alfonso Marquina said yesterday that the national governments “obsession” with extraditing Makled to Venezuela had to do with its desire to “shut up [or kill] the mockingbird” and he urged Santos to reconsider the decision to send Makled here.
Legislator Celia Flores, of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), said today that “opposition sectors have taken on the defence of Makled as a ‘political banner’”.
“It seems that they are basically defending a drug trafficker,” she said.
“It’s the [Venezuelan] government who has denounced Makled and who is interested in knowing what connections he has, that’s why we’re seeking his extradition,” Flores said.
Makled and Relations between Colombia and Venezuela
Carlos Escarra, national coordinator of legal issues in the PSUV said yesterday that right wing sectors in Venezuela and internationally wanted to use Makled to make relations between Colombia and Venezuela “bitter”.
In November of last year Santos said it was his intention to extradite Makled to Venezuela as part of a promise made during bi-lateral talks that month in Caracas.
“I gave my word to Chavez, and as soon as all the judicial proceedings are completed the extradition to Venezuela will take place. I am a man of my word,” Santos said, adding that “when we captured [Makled], Venezuela’s request for extradition came long before the U.S. request”.
On Monday, however, former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe suggested the extradition decision is not set in stone.
“The government of Colombia still hasn’t made a decision,” Uribe told the Miami Herald. “The Supreme Court has authorised his extradition to wherever the Colombian government decides.”
Santos and Chavez will meet this Saturday in Colombia, and Makled’s extradition is expected to be one of the topics discussed.
Venezuelan Government Responds
“We’re waiting for Makled to present the first evidence where he shows that government workers, leaders of the PSUV, are involved in drug trafficking as he alleges,” Escarra said.
“Makled is Venezuelan and he committed crimes here, and he has to be judged in Venezuela. We’re confident that Colombia will deport him so he can be judged in this country,” he concluded.
Venezuelan attorney general Luisa Ortega said yesterday that Makled “should already be here”, and that until now the Colombian Justice system had only expressed willingness to extradite him but “we haven’t seen any results”.
“Everything is going to depend on the evidence,” Ortega said, adding that in Venezuela trials are verbal and public and that anyone can attend and “draw their own conclusions”.
Finally, today, Minister for Defence, General Carlos Mata, said Makled’s accusations would be investigated. “Here we’ll conduct a full investigation, and who ever falls, falls. There are no protected people here,” he said.
Who is Walid Makled?
Interpol ranks Makled as one of the most wanted drug traffickers internationally, and as “extremely dangerous”.
Makled owned and operated the commercial airliner, Aeropostal Airlines, until the Venezuelan government seized the firm last year as part of its anti-drug trafficking efforts.
In the interview last week, Makled admitted to a fortune of over 1.2 billion U.S. dollars, which includes the airline, a transport company, publications, farms, property, yachts, luxury vehicles, and warehouses in Venezuelan ports and airports. Makled did not respond as to the location of his large fortune.