Sources: Chávez ignored drug warnings about Defense chief

| Monday, January 30th, 2012 | No Comments »

The Miami HeraldBY ANTONIO MARIA DELGADO

Venezuelan government’s high-ranking officials informed President Hugo Chávez that they had information directly linking then-Brigadier General Henry Rangel Silva to a vast drug trafficking network operated from military facilities, but their report did not interrupt the speedy ascent of the officer recently named minister of Defense.

Documents exclusively obtained by El Nuevo Herald show that Chávez has had direct information, at least since 2007, that officials closely linked to his revolution were linked to drug trafficking operations, though the Venezuelan government has protected, not punished, these officials.

“There are enough elements directly linking [Brigadier General] Henry de Jesús Rangel Silva to the investigation and trial in the state of Lara of four officials and a civil employee,” said an internal report presented to Chávez in January that mentioned the detention of an Army officer who had been arrested while transporting 2.2 tons of cocaine.

“I respectfully request that a profound investigation and audit be launched of the properties of citizen [Brigadier General] Henry de Jesús Rangel Silva, and that his work activities be suspended until his role in the aforementioned events are cleared,” said the official signing the report.

Rangel Silva was not available Thursday to respond calls or emails from El Nuevo Herald.

Sources close to the case told El Nuevo Herald that Rangel Silva was never investigated and his ascent up the ladder of the Armed Forces chain of command, instead of being interrupted was rather accelerated. Rangel Silva reached the post of General in Chief, the highest possible ranking in Venezuela, in late 2010.

Rangel Silva, who was decorated this week for “his work in the fight against drug trafficking,” is one of the members of the country’s military whose properties were frozen in 2008 by the U.S. Treasury for his alleged links to drug trafficking and Colombian guerrillas.

Chávez, who has consistently denied the accusations against the general, named him minister of Defense early this month.

“They attack Rangel Silva because in him they attack the National Bolivarian Armed Forces and the revolution. There are so many things and when you see where [the denunciations] are coming from we almost envy him,” said Chávez in the swearing ceremony “[They accuse him] of I don’t know how many things through infamy, lies and intrigue; they don’t have a single piece of evidence because it is all false.”

Yet the information against the minister collected by Venezuela’s own authorities had been at least enough for officials of his government to formally accuse him before Chávez and request an investigation at a moment in which Rangel Silva headed the dreaded National Direction of Intelligence and Prevention Services.

Such request came from a follow-up of a 2005 detention of a truck with Army plates that carried 2,000 packs of cocaine.

The investigation, done in the context of such detention, led to the arrest of various members of the military and Defense official, Edgar Alfonso Rincón Rangel, who is a cousin of Rangel Silva.

Besides this relative, with whom Rangel Silva had a series of telephone conversations after his detention, Army officers who had staged the operation from military bases, were later arrested.

The sources close to the case, who spoke on condition of anonymous, said that the shipment was one of various shipments done regularly from military facilities, which were occasionally used as safe places to store cocaine shipments supplied by Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces or FARC.

Documents pertaining to the case demonstrate that the Army’s high-ranking officers were in charge of the operation. Among them, then-Lieutenant Coronel Pedro José Maggino Belicchi, who despite being directly implicated in the confiscated drug shipment, was promoted only a few months after being indicted.

All persons implicated were sentenced, yet they are all free, the sources said.

U.S. authorities say that Venezuela has become an important transit bridge of drug shipments supplied by FARC from Colombia.

Emails found in the computers of fallen FARC leader Raúl Reyes establish that Rangel Silva had a close relationship with leaders of that organization, which the United States identifies as narcoterrorist.

Among those leaders is the FARC’s current maximum chief, Jorge Londoño, known within the organization as “Timochenko,” or just “Timo.”

In one of those emails, Rangel Silva is described as “a great friend of Timo, whom he wants to visit after Dec. 2.” And in another, Timochenko himself informs about a meeting he had with the general in which, as a close Chávez collaborator, advised him how to improve the deteriorated relation between the guerrillas and the president.

In another email, Timochenko said: “Managing work the best way possible with our friend Rangel, a person with good relations and willing to help people, seems worthwhile and will open many doors.”

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