Manufacturing the Venezuelan Crisis

Since the death of President Hugo Chavez in March of 2013, there is an observable spike in aggressive rhetoric from NGOs, politicians, and media outlets towards the Government of Venezuela. From allegations of corruption and narco-trafficking to sensationalised “eye witness” accounts of anything ranging from citizens raiding dumpsters to state-sponsored murder, the evidence of the Maduro government’s shortcomings is beaten into the heads of foreign observers on a daily basis. This narrative prompts several questions, including: what is the purpose of this ongoing campaign against Maduro and the PSUV? IS it being represented as neutrally and accurately as possible? Are Western diplomats, officials, and agents of the press simply behaving altruistically in an attempt to liberate oppressed citizens from a maniacal, totalitarian government? Is all of this fire and brimstone put forth day after day by mainstream news sources, NGOs, diplomats, and politicians alike just an effort to raise awareness and inspire Venezuelans to fight for ideals like democracy, civil society, and individual liberty? Are we, as foreign observers, being responsible by accepting these allegations at face value?

A closer look uncovers a disturbing pattern of geopolitical manipulation spanning back decades, revealing the unrelenting efforts of a select few hard-line anti-Communist Reagan-era operatives who maintain a strong presence in the shadowy edifices of U.S. foreign policy to this day. The purpose of this report is to examine this network and its influence, and its overall impact on the narrative foreigners are provided regarding the situation in Venezuela.

Unbeknownst to most international onlookers, synonymous with hysterical allegations against the Venezuelan Government is the name Roger Noriega. A diehard anti-Communist Republican, Noriega has spent the decades from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush behind the curtain in Washington pushing his radical theories about Latin American terrorist collaboration, Iranian missile bases, state-sponsored assassinations, and narco-trafficking into the mainstream, and since his resignation from the Bush administration in 2005, has channeled his efforts through a web of private lobbying activities and collusive relationships.

Noriega made his debut appearance on the political scene in 1986, when at the age of 27, he became one of several young Republicans in the Reagan administration embroiled in the Iran-Contra affair, a clandestine campaign of terror in which the U.S. government used profits from arms sold through Israel to Iran at massively inflated prices to finance murderous CIA-trained death squads to oppose the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, leaving a bloody legacy of violence, rape, torture, and death in their wake. According to reports, Noriega was responsible for overseeing “non-lethal aid” to the Contras. It is worth noting that Noriega has since built a lucrative platform for his lobbying career on the foundation of sensationalised, fear-based speculation about Iran and terrorist collaboration after beginning the very same career by providing armaments to Iran in exchange for money to fund terrorists. The irony does not need to be highlighted.

Unfazed by his subsequent dismissal for involvement in the affair, Noriega went on to work directly with USAID, became a Program Officer at the Bureau for Inter-American Affairs in 1987, and in 1990, he became a Senior Policy Advisor and Alternate U.S. Representative at the U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States. He would reappear on the political stage in 1994 as a Senior Staff member of New York Congressman Benjamin Gilman, a position he would use to unsuccessfully implicate security guards of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in a series of politically motivated killings, as well as an attempt on the life of the Haitian ambassador in Washington in 1998. Next, he became a Senior Foreign Relations staff member of Senator Jesse Helms, during which time he co-authored the Helms-Burton law to intensify the U.S. embargo on Cuba in an attempt to destabilise the Cuban government. Jesse Helms is known for his vehement anti-Castro agenda, and, among other things, his opposition to all things homosexual, defence of segregationist and discriminatory voting restrictions, and his funding and support of research into eugenics through the International Association for the Advancement of Ethnology and Eugenics. A couple of Helms’ more inflammatory quotes include “the Negro cannot count forever on the kind of restraint that’s thus far left him free to clog the streets, disrupt traffic, and interfere with other men’s rights” (WRAL-TV, 1963) and “crime rates and irresponsibility among Negroes are facts of life which must be faced” (NYT, 1981).

In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Noriega ambassador to the OAS, and in 2003 he replaced fellow Iran-Contra veteran Otto Reich — a staunch anti-Communist Cuban exile who had backed a previous coup attempt in Venezuela in 2002 — as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. It is during this time period that the first reports of the Venezuelan government “providing assistance to Islamic radicals” began to emerge. One such story was published in October of 2003 by Linda Robinson of US News, relying entirely on the apparent testimony of unnamed “US government sources”. The report caused such severe outrage in Venezuela that Ambassador Charles Shapiro was forced to convene with Deputy Foreign Minister Arevalo Mendez in order to arrange an urgent meeting with top level officials of the Venezuelan Government. The diplomatic tension that resulted from the speculative report almost resulted in the expulsion of Shapiro as persona non grata.

During his less than three year tenure, Noriega would be instrumental in the removal of democratically elected President Aristide of Haiti, a cause that — according to Robert White, former ambassador to El Salvador — he had been committed to for many years. He would later resign from public politics in 2005 amid criticism from Senior State Department officials aiming to ease tensions between the U.S. and Venezuela. Upon his resignation, he would enter the private sector as a lobbyist, promoting his own and his clients’ agendas based on his various roles within the Reagan and Bush administrations, as well as his position as a “Latin American scholar” and senior fellow at the right-wing libertarian think tank, American Enterprise Institute.

Noriega began his lobbying career with Miami based law firm Tew Cardenas LLP, run by fellow veteran of the Reagan administration and career conservative lobbyist Alberto “Al” Cardenas, who had coincidentally been lobbying for the interests of Haitian free-market proponents since the second quarter of 2004. In 1981, Cardenas co-founded the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), a Miami-based exile organisation credited with its assistance in the development of USAID-funded Radio Marti, TV Marti, and Mission Marti — which trained thousands of volunteers to “aid in the reconstruction of Cuba after Castro”.

From 2006–2009, Noriega worked tirelessly to cultivate his career and influence, representing the interests of a variety of clients from both public and private sectors. Notable clients include multi-billion dollar global hedge fund Elliott Management Corp, which Noriega assisted through “federal advocacy on behalf of US investors in Latin America”, political interest group Moroccan American Center for Policy, providing assistance and support for the settlement of Western Sahara issue, and Peruvian fraudster and convicted criminal Victor Alberto Venero-Garrido, who was indicted in the United States and required to repay over $20 million to the Government of Peru in relation to an alleged $170 million in fraudulent real estate transactions he conducted with co-conspirators from the Peruvian Military, National Police, and Peruvian intelligence Chief Vladimiro Montesinos.

Other clientele of Tew Cardenas/Cardenas Partners includes Florida-based private corrections company Geo Group, Inc., which has been embroiled in various scandals and lawsuits related to the treatment of inmates since 2001; as well as powerful conservative think tank US Global Leadership Coalition, and disgraced Brazilian construction company, Odebrecht, whose global bribery and fraud transactions Noriega has recently used in an ironic attempt to accuse PSUV officials of corruption.

From 2010–2014, Al Cardenas was paid over $200,000 by fugitive Venezuelan banker Nelson Mezerhane for “assistance in contacting the federal government and related agencies regarding obtaining political asylum”, following which Venezuelan Minister of Justice Miguel Rodriguez Torres specified that according to evidence collected by Venezuelan intelligence, Tew Cardenas and “a Venezuelan banker” were involved in the organisation, advising, and financing of violent extremists. According to the testimony of Jose Vasquez De Armas, a former member of Colombian paramilitary organisation Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), Mezerhane was one of the “intellectual authors” behind the assassination of high-profile Venezuelan prosecutor Danilo Anderson, who was killed by a military-grade C-4 explosive which was remotely detonated, killing him in his car on November 18, 2004. At the time, Anderson was involved in an investigation into individuals who signed the Carmona Decree, which was used in attempt to legitimise the “presidency” of Pedro Carmona during the 2002 coup d’etat.

In 2008, Noriega partnered with Venezuelan exile and former PDVSA & IMF employee Martin Rodil to form a private risk assessment and lobbying firm called Vision Americas, a self-described “team of seasoned and successful problem-solvers” which serves to “help companies, governments and organizations identify opportunities and tackle challenges to stay competitive in a complex global economy”. Like Noriega, Rodil had an intense desire to remove the PSUV from power, and like Noriega, his ambitions paint the picture of a staunch anti-Communist hardliner committed to achieving this goal by any means necessary.

In 2009, the Vision Americas network would play a key role in the deposition of President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras, during which time Noriega and fellow Vision Americas lobbyist Jose Cardenas were retained by Honduran free-market advocacy firm Associacion Hondurena da Maquiladores to “support the efforts of the Honduran private sector to help consolidate the democratic transition in their country”. Noriega claimed that the democratically elected Zelaya posed a threat to the region because Honduras was ground zero in what he described as “the continued spread of Chavista authoritarianism under the guise of democracy”, and used an opinion piece in Forbes magazine as a conduit to defend the coup the day after it took place, where he subsequently ranted about Chavez and the Cuban government. With Zelaya successfully ousted, Noriega turned his attention once again to Venezuela, with the enthusiastic input of his new business partner, Martin Rodil.

Through his position at the IMF, Rodil had been introduced to former Israeli army commando Tal Hanan, who worked as a security consultant in Washington. Hanan’s security firm, Demoman International, boasts on its website that not only has it “been providing security, intelligence, and law enforcement services to various international governments and agencies including Israel, U.S., different NATO members and Fortune 500 companies”, but that it has “recently expanded the company’s scope of services and its’ global operations now include the private sector and governments located in the regions of Latin America”. The Board of Directors consists of high-level ex-IDF officers, retired British SAS & Spanish Special Forces, U.S. Navy, and other members of the global intelligence community, many of whom the company refuses to name, referring to them only by their initials.

Hanan explained to Rodil that one of his clients was concerned that a Panamanian bank it intended to buy had been funneling money to Iran for Venezuelan state-owned oil company, PDVSA. Rodil agreed to help investigate the bank and eventually left the IMF in 2006 to partner with Hanan examining similar issues. He used his connections through his past work for PDVSA in Venezuela to make contact with individuals who were disenchanted with the Bolivarian Revolution, and offered them expedited passage to the U.S. if they were able to provide damning testimony related to PDVSA, the PSUV, and other influential Chavistas, with a focus on collaboration with Iran, corruption within the government and PDVSA, and narco-trafficking.

In 2007, shortly before partnering with Roger Noriega, Hanan and Rodil compiled the testimony they had collected and made contact with Yosef Kuperwasser, a retired Israeli brigadier general residing in Colombia and working as a private security consultant for then-President Alvaro Uribe to facilitate the training of right-wing paramilitary factions to combat the leftist guerrillas of the FARC. At the time, Kuperwasser was Vice-President of the infamous and now defunct private security firm Global CST, owned and operated by notorious IDF General Israel Ziv, who also spent decades training paramilitary forces all over Latin America, including the murderous Carlos Castano-Gil, leader of Colombia’s deadliest paramilitary group, the AUC. Global CST had been contracted by the Colombian Ministry of Defence beginning in December of 2006 to conduct a comprehensive review of the internal conflict in Colombia, specifically the Government’s frustration with its failure to combat “high value” FARC targets. The program was coordinated by then-Minister of Defence and soon-to-be President Juan Manuel Santos, who had a personal relationship with General Israel Ziv. It was approved by President Uribe in 2009, and codenamed “Salto Estrategico” (Strategic Leap).

Through Kuperwasser, Rodil and Hanan arranged a meeting in Tel Aviv with senior Israeli intelligence officials, who questioned the men for two days about their investigation. The Israeli officials concluded by urging Rodil to present his work to U.S. law enforcement in an effort to appeal to action under both domestic and international law. The evidence they had collected amounted to documented statements describing PDVSA contracts with an Iranian construction company to build apartment complexes, which, in the opinion of one engineer coerced by Rodil to provide statements, were overvalued in order to funnel money to Iran.

Upon returning to the U.S., Rodil presented the case to assistant district attorney of New York, Adam Kaufmann, who at the time was involved in the investigation of international financial crimes, but has since moved to a private practice where he assists clients to “navigate crises and mitigate their exposure to reputational, regulatory, criminal, and public relations risk; as well as handling white-collar criminal representation, internal investigations, and financial crimes compliance issues, with a particular emphasis on sanctions”. Through Kaufmann, Rodil and company have maintained a close relationship with the New York district attorney’s office, particularly the Eastern and Southern districts presided over by Robert L. Capers and — until 2017 — Preet Bharara, in collaboration with the Southern district of Florida presided over by Wilfredo A. Ferrer. These jurisdictions have been exclusively responsible for indictments and accusations of criminal activity put forth against Venezuelan officials over the past several years.

Further evidence suggests that the New York district attorney’s offices have sent investigators to the homes of individuals Rodil considers to be valuable sources of information on the Venezuelan government and PDVSA in order to intimidate them into cooperating with these investigations, the direction of which Rodil and his network control from behind the scenes:

In an interview with Bloomberg from 2016, Rodil proudly described how he initially reached out to a former PDVSA employee who had emigrated to New York to learn English by telling the man that his signature on key documents could get him into legal trouble, and offered to arrange a deal with prosecutors. After refusing and stating that he did nothing wrong, the man received a visit from investigators sent by the New York district attorney’s office as well as an FBI agent who claimed to “know everything about him”, and how he had “assisted PDVSA to violate U.S. sanctions on Iran”. One of the investigators blatantly threatened the man before leaving, saying “when I go home for the day, it’s to my wife and kids. I won’t have to think more about our meeting. You, on the other hand, can expect another knock on the door. The next time you pass through a U.S. airport, there might be a tap on the shoulder.” The man frantically called Rodil after the agents left his home, a call to which Rodil responded “once the investigators come to your door, it’s too late for my help”. These are the tactics employed by the Rodil-Noriega network in order to coerce statements from Venezuelan expats and implicate PSUV and PDVSA in wrongdoing.

There are numerous references to Tal Hanan and Martin Rodil in the Global Intelligence Files emails published by Wikileaks in 2013 made by Stratfor VP of Global Analysis Reva Goujon. In an email to Stratfor President George Friedman, Goujon states “there are a lot of strange things I’m hearing on Venezuela and I’m working on confirming some of the speculation that something deeper is happening within the regime”, alluding to Rodil as her source, and mentioning Hanan by name. Another email between Goujon and Rodil from June, 2010 arranges a meeting at the Park Hyatt. Rodil and Hanan are also listed as sources on Goujon’s “insight list” document, along with a few other Venezuelan expats, private security firms, and journalists. In an exchange from July, 2010, Goujon and Hanan discuss swapping information regarding Venezuelan money laundering, Hezbollah, and FARC in an email which Hanan closes by cryptically stating “if you need anything in Yemen we have a new fountain there”. Conflict between Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government did not publicly escalate until 2012.

It is worth noting an unrelated email from September of 2008, in which several analysts from Stratfor including Reva Goujon (then Bhalla) and Fred Burton can be seen fantasizing about the death of Chavez in response to a headline illustrating his support of Bolivian President Evo Morales. Burton is seemingly upset, stating “we need to take this crazy third-world leader out”, to which Goujon responds “I can arrange something for you, just tell me who I need to meet”.

Since partnering with Noriega in 2008, Rodil has ramped up his efforts to incriminate Venezuelan state officials, using his network of powerful contacts within U.S. the government, law enforcement, Israeli intelligence, private security, and global finance to manufacture evidence and influence policy. Through his business network, Rodil offers the facilitation of meetings between Venezuelan elites seeking to leave the country bound for the United States and various branches of U.S. law enforcement in order to provide evidence against the government of Venezuela and PDVSA in exchange for money and preferential treatment. Rodil is often paid for these efforts by the U.S. government. He has recently become an Israeli citizen, routinely flying wealthy Venezuelan intellectuals to Israel — all expenses paid — to discuss the details of “rebuilding Venezuela after the fall of Chavismo”. He has not been to Venezuela since 2005.

Allegations made through the Noriega-Rodil network against Vice President Tareck El Aissami and Diosdado Cabello, a close confidante of Maduro and former president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, have been used by the DEA and subsequently U.S. attorneys to implicate these officials in narco-trafficking and alleged membership in the Cartel of the Suns, as well as by factions of the U.S. state department to accuse them of collaborating with organisations classified as terrorist such as Hezbollah, Los Zetas, and FARC. Among the sources of these assertions are two former Venezuelan officials who defected from the country in identical fashion just over a year apart, using the DEA as an intermediary to facilitate their transport to U.S. soil. Leamsy Salazar, a former lieutenant colonel in the Venezuelan Navy, and head of security for Chavez and Cabello, and Rafael Isea, a former PSUV politician and close confidante of Chavez himself, are now both “cooperating with the DEA” in an investigation into Cabello and El Aissami.

Salazar, who has been implicated in Chavez’s death by dedicated journalist, author, and attorney Eva Golinger, alleges that Diosdado Cabello and his brother Jose preside over the Cartel of the Suns, an unverifiable piece of hearsay in which he claims he was witness to Cabello giving orders regarding the shipment of cocaine to FARC guerrillas. In similar unsubstantiated fashion, Salazar has stated that President Maduro lied about the date of Chavez’s death, and claimed without a shred of evidence that Chavez died on December 30, 2012, which would invalidate several laws passed between January and March of 2013.

Isea, in a long-standing feud with Tareck El Aissami which can be traced back to 2012 on Twitter, has alleged that El Aissami betrayed Chavez, and was waiting for him to die in order to assume power. He has also stated in a series of Tweets that El Aissami and government officials were targeting his family, and that he was not cooperating with the DEA — which turned out to be false. Isea’s statements include accusations that El Aissami is involved in narco-trafficking — also with the Cartel of the Suns — and that he has funneled drug money to terrorist organisations. Rafael Isea became a protected witness for the DEA in September of 2013, in order to avoid facing charges in Venezuela for acquiring money through criminal means, concerning the theft of over $200 million. The United States refuses to extradite him to face justice.

Salazar is quoted in 2015 by Roger Noriega through his blog at the AEI in reference to allegations of drug trafficking being leveled against Diosdado Cabello. Further, it is likely that an October 2013 mention made by Noriega of a “senior Venezuelan defector” is in reference to Rafel Isea, since it was Isea who claimed that El-Aissami planned to purge the PSUV of “traitors” in an effort to consolidate power.

Other sources include Colombian drug kingpin and AUC associate Daniel Barrera Barrera, also indicted by the Southern and Eastern districts of New York, and disgraced Miami businessman Jose Shiera Bastidas, as well as four of his former associates who are accused of conspiring to launder money and bribe PDVSA officials in order to win contracts ahead of other vendors. Statements from these individuals are being given in accordance with pre-negotiated plea agreements. It is worth noting beforehand that notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman has also been indicted by the Eastern District of New York, and although he has not provided any specific information to date about Venezuelan officials that has been made public, unsubstantiated claims in court documents allude to the involvement of Venezuela in his multi-national criminal syndicate.

Further colluding with law enforcement, Rodil has alluded to his behind the scenes involvement in the November 2015 arrests of Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, the nephew and adopted stepson of President Nicolas Maduro — and their subsequent indictments by ex-SDNY attorney Preet Bharara. An elaborate operation was launched against the young men — branded ‘narcosobrinos’ by mainstream news media before any verdict was handed down — who were arrested in a hotel restaurant in Port-Au-Prince after having allegedly agreed to accept $5 million for 800 kilograms of cocaine from a confidential DEA informant.

Despite not being in possession of any cocaine, Campo and Flores were swarmed, taken into custody by Haitian police, and detained for several hours without food or water before being turned over to DEA agents and flown to New York, during which time, Campo stated in a declaration dated June 30, 2016, they were under the impression they were being kidnapped. Campo also stated that his family, including his infant child, were threatened and mocked by the agents, specifically agent Sandalio Gonzalez, who claims not to remember the conversation.

During the proceedings, it was heard by the court that DEA informant Jose Santos Pena had attempted to distribute drugs while in prison, and that he and his son had made “controversial calls” over the course of the trial. This prompted Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan Quigley to proclaim to Pena “you now understand your cooperation agreement is getting ripped up”, while the defense team concluded informant misconduct had “infected every aspect” of the trial. Pena and his son were paid $1.2 million for their testimony.

Flores and Campo were convicted on Friday, November 18, 2016. On March 24, Judge Paul Crotty denied defense attorneys’ request for a new trial, despite the evidence of incompetence, corruption, perjury, false testimony, and other controversy throughout the course of the proceedings which called the credibility of the informants, specifically “CS-1”, into question. Campo and Flores were sentenced on December 14, 2017 to 18 years in prison. They appealed their sentences on December 15 and 27 respectively.

Martin Rodil has used his lobbying firm, the Venezuelan American Leadership Council, to disseminate news of the verdict, the allegations against Cabello, El Aissami, and others, as well as supplemental propaganda he uses to further the agenda of delegitimising the Maduro government and provoking the U.S. government into action. The Venezuelan American Leadership Council, or VALC, is a lobbying group whose concept Rodil asserts he based on the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee. An initial investigation into VALC showed the firm’s website had been set up by right wing media mogul Vincent Harris of Harris Media, another career anti-Communist Republican aligned with the ultra-conservative millionaire’s political club, the Council for National Policy. VALC has since re-registered their domain, but evidence of the initial DNS registration exists using Harris Media’s email address to conduct a reverse lookup, and VALC responded to a Facebook message in which they were asked about the connection stating “they built website” and providing a link to Harris Media’s website. Vincent Harris regularly shares VALC posts via social media, and interacts with their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

On January 25, 2017, Rodil wrote a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, which he published through VALC, in which he implored Tillerson to take action regarding “political prisoners”. The letter pleaded for the release of criminals like right-wing terror plotter and NED grantee Lorent Saleh, and agitator of the violent La Salida protests Leopoldo Lopez, which cost 43 people their lives and saw innocent civilians beheaded by razor wire strung across roadways by opposition ‘guarimbas’. The letter also called for a referendum, and closed by stating “The Venezuelan American Leadership Council, the mouthpiece of liberty loving Venezuelan Americans, looks forward to working with your administration to help bring democracy and freedom to the people of Venezuela after so many years of pain and misery”. Tillerson has a personal vendetta against the government of Venezuela dating back to 2007, when Chavez used Presidential order 5200 to expropriate ExxonMobil to the tune of $12 billion when they failed to sign agreements related to the nationalisation of Venezuela’s Orinoco oil fields.

VALC published a press release on February 8, 2017, displaying a letter co-signed by 34 U.S. government representatives urging the Trump administration to sanction Venezuelan government officials implicated in the absurd theories about Iranian terrorist sponsorship and cartel involvement circulated by the Noriega-Rodil network. The letter makes explicit reference to “the nexus between corruption, drug trafficking, and the influence of extremist terrorist organizations in Venezuela” about which they expressed “great concern over Maduro’s elevation of Tareck El Aissami”. The letter was authored by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban exile and Republican representative from Florida’s 27th district. Investigation into the connection between Rodil, Noriega, and Ros-Lehtinen provides evidence that Ros-Lehtinen’s husband Dexter worked closely with Noriega and fellow lobbyist Jose Cardenas through his career as a Partner at law firm Tew Cardenas, LLP. Through Tew Cardenas, Noriega gave money to a number of Republican representatives, including Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, dating back to 2006. She was subsequently given $1,000 by Roger Noriega in 2016 through the Vision Americas lobbying firm*.

On February 13, Tareck El Aissami was sanctioned under the Kingpin Act, resulting in the freezing of “tens of millions of dollars” worth his U.S. assets, according to U.S. press secretary Sean Spicer, and his entry to the United States being henceforth prohibited.

Other lobbying activities conducted by Roger Noriega through Vision Americas include a $25,000 contract in 2010 with Venezuelan firm Alodiga claiming to “support the client’s registration and regulatory issues”, and a $45,000 contract in 2016 with the Haitian branch of global industrial, financial, supply chain, and telecommunications giant GB Group, owned by billionaire opportunist and prospector Gilbert Bigio which specified an initiative related to “educating U.S. stakeholders about the economic opportunities of a modern port system in Haiti”.

Vision Americas lobbyists Roger Noriega and Jose Cardenas gave a total of $7,724 to Republican representatives in 2016, including $1,250 to Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, $1,500 to Marco Rubio, and $1,000 to Jeff Duncan, all of whom signed the February 8th letter calling for sanctions and increased funding to the Economic Support Fund — which has a current annual budget of $6.5 million related to Venezuela — “with the purpose of supporting the development of democratic political processes, institutions and values until the country returns to democratic governance”.

On February 24, 2017, American Enterprise Institute co-hosted an event with the Americas Society and Council of the Americas called “Venezuela in turmoil: The challenging path ahead”. Participants in the discussion included panelists Roger Noriega, Secretary General of the OAS Luis Almagro, Vice President of COA Eric Farnsworth, ex-Ambassador to Venezuela under Bush Patrick Duddy, and journalists Antonio Mora and Hannah Dreier. The two hour discussion began with Noriega announcing that Venezuela is in a “death spiral”, Almagro stating that “every institution” in Venezuela “must be rebuilt from below zero”, and calling for people to “recognise (the Maduro government) by its name — an authoritarian regime — and react accordingly”. When given the stage, Noriega used his time to make disparaging comments about Cuba and Chavez, going as far as to say of Chavez’s cancer treatment “the Cuban medical system’s one great contribution to humanity, was killing Hugo Chavez”. He then reminisced fondly about America’s role in installing brutal Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, asserting “it was the external commitment of the United States that made the difference”.

Noriega did not mince words when outlining his strategy, explaining that “painting these guys as narcos is one way you delegitimise the regime”, referring to high-level PSUV officials such as El-Aissami and Cabello who have been targeted by sanctions in the U.S., claiming moments later that “the Ambassador to the United States should be looking over his shoulder” as well. When asked about his recommendations for the future, Noriega suggested branding PDVSA and CITGO as criminal enterprises to “kill the economy”, and advised the U.S. to stop making cash payments for Venezuelan oil. Continuing, he indicated that he would like to see the OAS step up, because “it is not a values-neutral organisation like the UN, and it might come to that if we need to authorise the use of force”, which he said would not be “the U.S. intervening, but the community responding” to the Maduro government.

On February 28, 2017, the VALC network successfully lobbied U.S. Senators Benjamin Cardin and Marco Rubio along with 8 other cosponsors to introduce S.Res.35 into Congress on March 1, a resolution calling once again for the release of “political prisoners”, inclusion of the opposition in political decisions, and encouraging the support of OAS Secretary General Almagro in invoking article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter to “undertake a collective assessment of the constitutional and democratic order in Venezuela”. The resolution acted as a precursor to a congressional hearing held by the U.S. Committee on Foreign Relations which took place on March 3, including testimony from career proponent of U.S. intervention in Latin America and Iran-Contra veteran Mark Feierstein, as well as CFR member and senior Rockefeller Foundation fellow Shannon O’Neil, and Washington Office on Latin America representative David Smilde. Smilde’s testimony included several remarks about the ineffectiveness of sanctions before a recommendation which called for measures similar to those “carried out in El Salvador in the late 1980s”.

In the late 1980s, El Salvador was embroiled in a 12-year civil war, in which the leftist FMLN fought for the rights of the poor and working class against the government and paramilitary forces of right-wing oligarch, Jose Duarte, who was backed heavily by the Reagan administration. Salvadoran conditions saw massacres at the hands of roving death squads, 75% of the population in poverty, a lack of access to clean water, a 50% unemployment rate, a $3 billion U.S. aid package distributed to urban businesses which completely overlooked the destitute, and land ownership of 41% belonging to the richest 1% of Salvadoran society.

On March 2, 2017, Jewish-American newspaper the Algemeiner published an interview with Martin Rodil in which he admitted to “telling the new administration to put the pressure on now”, that “there are a lot of tools the US can play with to punish the Venezuelan government”, and similar to his colleague Noriega, suggesting that the U.S. refuse to pay cash for Venezuelan oil, a move he believes would result in the “death” of the Maduro “regime”, flatly stating “it would be gone within days”.

This total disregard for the Venezuelan people and attempt to influence further economic decline by manipulating Venezuela’s export revenue proves Rodil is no moral crusader altruistically dedicated to freeing the oppressed masses from the grips of totalitarian despair, but rather, admittedly uses his self-proclaimed “hobby” meddling in foreign relations to the benefit of his personal, paranoid agenda which is centred almost entirely around Iran, and the sovereign nations who choose to exercise their right to self-determination to work collaboratively with Iranian companies and officials, and build strategic relationships with the Iranian government as a counterweight to American influence in Latin America and the world.

Referring back to the AEI summit from February 2017, in the words of Ambassador Duddy “PetroCaribe built relationships with other countries as a bulwark to protect Venezuela from pressure from the U.S.”, a fact which, for this network of hard-line Republican capitalists, poses a significant threat. As Benjamin Cardin stated to open the March 3 congressional hearing, “we have a direct U.S. security interest in reversing what is happening in Venezuela”.

On March 14, 2017, Luis Almagro published a 73 page report addressed to Ambassador Patrick Andrews, the permanent representative of Belize to the OAS. The report recalled its previous revision, dated May 31, 2016, in which Almagro called for dialogue between the Maduro government and opposition groups, mediation, and good offices — proclaiming that these processes have since lost credibility, and blaming Maduro for the lack of reciprocal dialogue despite the fact that it was the divided opposition which repeatedly shut down the discussion.

Recommendations laid out in the report implore OAS member states to proceed with invocation of Articles 20 and 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter to suspend Venezuela’s membership from the OAS if general elections are not held within the next 30 days. Almagro also suggested demanding the release of all “political prisoners”, and the establishment of “a channel to provide humanitarian assistance” to Venezuela during this time frame. A follow-up paragraph on page 66 reaffirms the commitment of the OAS to remain actively involved in opposition politics within the country, stating “The General Secretariat of the Organization of American States will continue to cooperate with authorities, political actors and civil society in Venezuela to support this urgent need. It also reiterates its willingness to collaborate directly with, and to be actively involved in all ways possible to help achieve these objectives.”

The report proceeds to tout the Democratic Charter as a “liberating banner of solidarity”, claiming “ Nowhere in the recent history of the Western Hemisphere has a tyrant triumphed over the collective will of his peers”, listing heavily U.S.-backed dictators such as Pinochet, Trujillo, Noriega, and the Duvaliers and — while completely overlooking the incalculable sacrifices made by leftist rebels and peasants fighting for basic rights under these despots — attributes their eventual downfall to the efforts of the same “Heads of State and Government in the Americas” who raised them to power in the first place. Almagro asserts that “This is the destiny of Nicolas Maduro and Diosdado Cabello”, adding insult to injury by drawing a comparison between two lifelong proponents of social justice for the poor and oppressed to the brutal dictators who, with the help of the United States, built formidable means to oppress them.

On March 24, 2017, pursuant to a joint statement issued by 14 countries in response to Almagro’s request for Venezuela’s suspension from the OAS, the Permanent Mission of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela requested that a special meeting be convened for Monday, March 27, at which Minister of People’s Power for Foreign Affairs Delcy Rodriguez would be allowed to present Venezuela’s case to member states.

During her hour long presentation, Rodriguez highlighted the fact that throughout his tenure as OAS Secretary, Almagro has dedicated himself to campaigning against the Maduro government, attending meetings with opposition leaders 26 times in the past year, 57% of which were with right leaning party Voluntad Popular — led by the Leopoldo Lopez. Rodriguez also cited Almagro’s social media presence as an indicator of his bias, stating that from 2014–2017, 73% of his Tweets have been related to Venezuelan affairs, often celebrating measures taken by the U.S. against the Bolivarian government such as the sanctions implemented earlier in March. Continuing her presentation, Rodriguez referenced the hypocrisy of the OAS in seeking to intervene in Venezuelan affairs under the pretense of upholding democracy after its passive involvement or tacit complicity in over 50 coups throughout the hemisphere since its inception, including the two day coup carried out against President Chavez in 2002 with the covert political support and financial assistance of the United States.

In light of the information provided by Rodriguez, it is worth noting that precedent to the early 2014 outbreak of violent “guarimba” style protests throughout Venezuela, several relatives of individuals affected by the violence authored a letter to Mr. Almagro in which they expressed their concern that he used his position at the OAS to discredit the mission of their organisation, “Victimas de la Guarimba por la Verdad y la Justicia”, by stating that it had been compromised by the Venezuelan government. In the letter, they claim that “Since we began to give our testimonies, we have been subject to attacks, disqualifications, harassment and expressions of hatred by national and international leaders who have sought to create a climate that could put at risk the personal integrity and life of those who form part of this Committee”, and accuse Almagro of using the deaths of their relatives to misrepresent the situation in Venezuela and provide cover to those who are truly responsible for the violence.

The special meeting requested by the 14 countries that co-authored the March 24 joint statement with the addition of Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia, and the Bahamas was scheduled for March 28 at 2 PM, during which time OAS member countries expressed mixed opinions regarding the application of the Democratic Charter. Venezuelan Deputy Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada began the session by calling into question the purpose of the meeting itself and reiterating the fact that invoking Article 21 would be in violation of the non-intervention principle built into the Charter. As the three-hour meeting progressed, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Michael Fitzpatrick called for “swift action”, stating that Venezuela “must hold elections as soon as possible and release all political prisoners, including Leopoldo López”.

Representatives from the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Haiti stood in defense of Venezuela despite an earlier intimidation attempt by Senator Marco Rubio, indicating foreign aid to these countries would be cut should they fail to vote in favour of the suspension. A spokesman for Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren responded to Rubio’s thinly veiled threat, stating “Marco Rubio’s disregard for international treaties that mediate and lay down the rules for cooperation astonishes us”, and adding that Washington is welcome to cut off future aid to El Salvador, despite the fact that this would place it in violation of two previous agreements. Rubio, through his seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has become an increasingly prevalent voice in US policy circles concerning Venezuela, taking his talking points directly from mentors such as Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Roger Noriega, with whom he collaborates frequently on issues of foreign policy.

Continuing his testimony, Moncada addressed OAS member states, asserting “this is all tied to the U.S. and the State Department. We ask that if the U.S. wants to help, they should revoke Obama’s decree and deport all of the criminals here in this country [the United States] that work against our people. That would be a first goodwill step. We reject forcibly what has happened here today and we will fight any attempt to intervene in the affairs of Venezuela”. Closing his speech to a room full of applause, Moncada breathed a sigh of relief as member states voted only 57% in favour of invoking Article 21, which is short of the required two-thirds majority, allowing Venezuela temporary respite from political onslaught.

In mid-February of 2017, Roger Noriega, VALC, and other affiliated organisations aggressively disseminated a report published by CNN Espanol which was referred to as a “two-year investigation” into the alleged illegal issuance and sale of Venezuelan identity cards, visas, birth certificates, and passports out of the Baghdad embassy, citing claims made by ex-embassy counselor and CICPC official Misael Lopez Soto.

According to Lopez’s 2015 testimony, individuals from Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and in some cases Pakistan routinely paid up to $15,000 for the falsified documents, and “in many cases, were linked to terrorist groups”, though he offers no proof of the latter. Lopez asserted that he notified the Ambassador, who failed to report the situation to the government in Caracas, and that local employees who perpetrated the fraud were removed from the Baghdad embassy only to be reinstated in other positions domestically. Closing dramatically, Lopez claimed that his family had been threatened since coming forward with the information, forcing him to seek refuge in the United States.

Neither CNN Espanol, nor the political networks circulating the report were able to provide any further information other than that which was provided by Misael Lopez, allegedly the sole witness to the sale of the fraudulent documentation. The Venezuelan government denied any involvement in the alleged incident, and Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez pointed to Lopez’s ties to the opposition through his close friendship with Ana Argotti, the legal representative of Lilian Tintori on behalf of Leopoldo Lopez. Rodriguez also referred to an instance in which Lopez had attempted to commit bank fraud by posing as the Ambassador to Iraq, and stated that he had been accused of sexual harassment by a female staff member during his brief tenure at the Baghdad embassy.

Misael Lopez has previously confirmed that he is proud of his his political affiliations with “such distinguished fighters for the freedom of Venezuela” as Roger Noriega, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Marco Rubio, and Lilian Tintori. Lopez also confirmed the fact that upon initially traveling to the United States, he was approached by Martin Rodil, Joseph Humire of Secure Free Society, and Emili J. Blasco of the Center for Global Affairs and Strategic Studies and asked for information.

On April 3, 2017, lawyer Ana Argotti was arrested in Caracas in possession of 17 identity cards, 9 passports, rubber stamps, and several other items necessary for the manufacture of fraudulent documents. Authorities are also investigating the possibility that Argotti was involved in providing Luis Florido of Voluntad Popular with false documents, facilitating his entry to the United States.

The CNN report is repeatedly cited as evidence that Venezuela poses a threat to U.S. national security through support for terrorist organisations, such as Hezbollah, whose name is frequently invoked by the reactionary right as a means of justification for their political agenda. Circulation of this narrative continues without mention of Argotti’s arrest, and despite the fact that the original testimony provided by Lopez does not make mention of Iran.

On April 6, a decision was made to disqualify opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski from running for political office for a period of 15 years due to his prolonged efforts to destabilise the country through encouragement of violence with the goal of causing a breakdown of constitutional order. The decision led Capriles to once again call his supporters to the streets, where they revisited tactics from 2014’s violent “la salida” protest, barricading roadways, attacking riot police with Molotov cocktails and stones, and setting fire to government buildings. 2014’s protest saw 43 people killed, and a daycare center set on fire with 87 children inside.

As protests raged on through the weekend, riot police were forced to employ tear gas and smoke grenades to disperse violent crowds, who subsequently documented the police and GNB response as evidence of repression of their right to “peaceful assembly”.

On April 8, ultra right-wing El Hatillo Mayor David Smolansky took to Twitter, making falsified claims that coloured smoke grenades used by riot police were “chemical weapons” akin to those “used in Syria”. The reference to Syrian use of chemical weapons came days after a devastating gas attack left at least 70 Syrian civilians — including children — dead and hundreds more in life-threatening condition, an attack to which the Trump administration responded with the deployment of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched at the Shayrat airbase near Homs. Smolansky is under investigation for his dangerous claims, aimed at the international community to provoke military intervention. He has since taken refuge in the United States. The false claims continue to be circulated by opposition members and supporters on Twitter, including an account claiming to represent Amnesty International in Venezuela.

On May 3, 2017, Senators Ben Cardin and Marco Rubio were once again responsible for co-sponsorship of a Venezuela-related bill, this time H.R.2658 — Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act of 2017. Citing the World Health Organization, the IMF, and partisan “human rights group” Foro Penal, the bill makes several “observations”, and provides recommendations including a $10,000,000 budget to be administered by the Secretary of State and USAID, $9,500,000 of which is earmarked to “support uncensored internet access and freedom of press” and “defend internationally recognized human rights”. The bill goes on to task USAID and the Secretary of State with the preparation of a report that “describes how the United States will secure support from international donors” for the provision of “humanitarian assistance” to the people of Venezuela.

Also laid out in the bill is a strategy designed decrease Caribbean reliance on “preferential treatment by Venezuela” in regards to energy procurement by strengthening the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative through efforts made by the Secretary of State, USAID, and OPIC. Increased sanctioning of Venezuelan officials is recommended based on the findings of a future report requested from the Secretary of State and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research within 180 days of enactment, describing the “involvement of senior officials in grand corruption (with respect to US national security)”. Specific attention is paid to the possibility that PDVSA could default on its loan from Rosneft, resulting in Rosneft’s ownership of PDVSA subsidiary CITGO, and the bill recommends that “the Department of Homeland Security conduct an assessment of the security risks posed by foreign control of CITGO’s United States energy infrastructure holdings.”

Pursuant to H.R.2658, on May 18, the US Department of Treasury sanctioned eight members of the Venezuelan Supreme Court. Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin claimed that “members of the country’s Supreme Court of Justice have exacerbated the situation by consistently interfering with the legislative branch’s authority,” and “By imposing these targeted sanctions, the United States is supporting the Venezuelan people in their efforts to protect and advance democratic governance in their country.” Mnuchin failed to mention the fact that Venezuela’s National Assembly has been in contempt of court since March of 2017, at which point it installed three lawmakers who were suspended over allegations of electoral fraud. The TSJ has ruled that once the lawmakers are removed, the National Assembly will once again be granted its legislative powers.

In mid-June 2017, Vision Americas lobbyist Jose Cardenas authored an op-ed in National Review, praising the targeted sanctions and encouraging “aggressive multilateral diplomacy” that “can serve to further delegitimize the Maduro regime before the Venezuelan people and international public opinion, as well as send a signal to nationalists in the Venezuelan military that they are no longer defending the Venezuelan constitution”. Fragmenting the Venezuelan military and encouraging acts of rebellion among its ranks would prove to be the new popular rhetoric among this small network of conservative lobbyists.

On June 26, Marco Rubio and Roger Noriega co-hosted an AEI Summit entitled Kingpins and corruption: Targeting transnational organized crime in the Americas to showcase a report prepared by the “AEI working group” on transnational organised crime. The working group consists of all the usual suspects — Noriega, Humire, Jose Cardenas, Martin Rodil, Douglas Farah, etc — and is one component of a platform they’ve built to legitimise their positions through circular sourcing of various opinion pieces and speculation put forth by themselves and their colleagues. The report, similarly titled Kingpins and Corruption, unifies all the tangents previously discussed by Rodil, Noriega, and their close-knit lobby group regarding involvement of Bolivarian officials in narco-trafficking, the alleged influence of Iran and Hezbollah in the region, Chavez and Maduro’s support of the FARC, the corruption of PDVSA, and the alleged abuses of human rights perpetrated by members of various Bolivarian state authorities. To illustrate the magnitude of the circular sourcing and the level of amplification this small group of individuals is able to achieve, the most egregious claims from the report and their sources are discussed briefly below:

  1. Samark Lopez Bello is the front man for a multinational criminal enterprise run by Tareck El-Aissami

This claim is sourced from an article by Fox News describing the holdings of Lopez Bello and his properties in Miami, along with a diagram of the same with an arrow pointing from Lopez Bello to El Aissami, displaying the words “front man”. There is no material evidence provided for the claim aside from the fact that Lopez and El Aissami are acquaintances. The source of the claim that El Aissami runs a multinational criminal terrorist syndicate is Joseph M. Humire of Secure Free Society, who admits in a related article that the rumors of El Aissami meeting with high-level Hezbollah representatives that he bases his theory on are “not confirmed, but should be investigated”. This claim is circularly sourced and leads back to Joseph Humire.

A second claim of this nature is made several paragraphs further into the report, stating El Aissami and his front man Samark Lopez Bello allegedly operate a financial network that transfers illicit funds from Latin America to the Middle East, with “close to 40 front companies owning 20 properties with cash, vehicles, real estate, and other assets in 36 bank accounts throughout Venezuela, Panama, Curacao, St. Lucia, Florida, and Lebanon.” This claim is sourced to a 2012–13 document authored by Joseph Humire entitled “Canada on Guard: Assessing the Immigration Security Threat of Iran, Venezuela and Cuba”. The document makes NO MENTION of Tareck El Aissami or Samark Lopez Bello in any of its 19 pages. In addition, it makes no mention of drug trafficking, cocaine, or transnational criminal syndicates whatsoever. The quote preceding the source numbered 72 that leads to the document is derived directly from 2015 testimony given by Joseph Humire to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and provides no solid evidence of any of the accusations being leveled against El Aissami or Lopez. This claim is flagrantly circularly sourced and deliberately misleading, and relies heavily on the assumption that readers will not check source material.

The report goes on to discuss February 2017 designation of El Aissami, under the Kingpin Act, which used an obscure remark made in 2010 by Venezuelan drug lord Walid Makled as evidence that El Aissami had “received payment for the facilitation of drug shipments belonging to Makled”. In the 2010 remark, Makled referred to El Aissami as “a friend”, and claimed that his brother would do “whatever favour” he needed. Before his extradition from Colombia to Venezuela, Makled made several inflammatory remarks about Venezuelan officials’ facilitation of drug trafficking, however none specifically referring to El Aissami. Though the report sources a PanAm Post article as proof that up to $3 billion of El Aissami’s assets were frozen as a result of the sanctions, he maintains that he has never had a US bank account or visa. There is no publicly available testimony of Walid Makled’s trial, and all comments allegedly made by him that are later appropriated to suit various agenda are not necessarily framed in the context they were originally intended, if any verifiable context in fact exists.

  1. a) Front men outside of the government work with officials to launder cocaine profits — dozens of senior Venezuelan officials have amassed significant fortunes in the form of real property, cash deposits, negotiable bonds, banks, and businesses worldwide

The intention is to lead readers to associate these two unrelated claims. The initial claim is left completely unsourced, and no evidence or even context is provided that links it to Venezuela or the Venezuelan government. The second claim is sourced from a Reuters article describing opposition supporters and “journalists” harassing the family members of government officials by posting photos online of their families, including children, with disparaging remarks. These claims are not circularly sourced, but combining them is misleading, as they are unrelated, and completely irrelevant to the topic, and further assume that readers will not bother to check source material for validity.

2. Chavez personally committed millions from PDVSA coffers to FARC commanders to fund operations against Alvaro Uribe/Venezuela is a narco-state run by the Cartel of the Suns

This claim is sourced from an article by Foreign Policy which is largely based on the testimony provided by Leamsy Salazar after his defection to the US, in which Salazar claims he was present for clandestine meetings of which there is no way to verify the existence. The article attempts to add credibility to the testimony by referencing a 2009 US Embassy cable from Caracas claiming that “Diosdado Cabello is a major pole of corruption”, however the cable mentions nothing of drug trafficking and in fact describes the alleged backing of the purchase of several small banks by Cabello and Rafael Isea, the other defector working with the DEA, who is currently being protected by the US from facing charges of corruption and theft in Venezuela. The article goes on to quote Emili Blasco, who claims that his report on Cabello’s criminal enterprise draws on information from “anonymous sources within the US investigation”, and an interview with Salazar himself. The article also states outright that no proof has ever been produced to confirm the existence of the “Cartel of the Suns” (the term originated in 1993 when two national guard generals were investigated for drug trafficking — note that this predates Chavismo by 5 years and nobody in Washington mentioned it as an issue of national security under Carlos Andres Perez). This claim is circularly sourced and leads back to Leamsy Salazar and Emili Blasco.

3. The Venezuelan Government and Military are integral in international narco-trafficking operations and provide state resources and personnel to facilitate the shipment of narcotics

This claim is sourced from an article by the Cipher Brief which consists entirely of quotes from Roger Noriega, Patrick Duddy, Marco Rubio, and several other Senators who speak on behalf of this network but have never been to Venezuela or spoken with stakeholders. The only assertion that is seemingly independent of this network in the source article is made by former DEA Chief of Operations and Cipher Brief “expert” Mike Vigil, who recites claims made by Misael Lopez about passports being sold to “terrorist operatives” (a statement that has now been transformed to include Iran and Hezbollah, but initially did not mention either) as proof of the Venezuelan Government’s deliberate assistance to transnational criminal syndicates. It is unclear whether Vigil is aware of the origin of this narrative. This claim is egregiously circularly sourced and leads directly back to Roger Noriega.

4. The US DEA and federal prosecutors in a half-dozen jurisdictions have invested substantial financial and human resources to building cases against these individuals

This is sourced from an article published by the Wall Street Journal entitled “Venezuelan Officials Suspected of Turning Country into Global Cocaine Hub”. The article is not available without a subscription, however it was so defamatory in nature that it prompted Diosdado Cabello to file a lawsuit against the parent company of WSJ, Dow Jones. In the case text, it is confirmed that the source of the claims made against Cabello in the WSJ article is Leamsy Salazar, along with an “unnamed Justice Department official” and “persons who were not involved in any official investigation”. Further, the author of the article did not interview anyone personally, but obtained the information printed from previous articles in which Salazar and anonymous sources were quoted and compiled these pieces into a new article. Cabello asserts that the article amounts to libel. This claim is based on a libelous publication which is circularly sourced from Emili Blasco’s original ABC article and leads back to Leamsy Salazar.

5. Tareck El Aissami issued 10,000 Venezuelan passports and identity documents to Islamist extremists from Syria, Iran, and other Middle Eastern countries.

This claim is sourced from an article by CNN directly quoting Misael Lopez. Although the line in the report immediately prior to source number 76 states that claims are “according to Vladimir Medrano Rengifo”, he is not mentioned in the article. Instead, there is allusion to a “confidential intelligence report from a group of Latin American countries obtained by CNN” which, allegedly and unverifiably of course, contains the information that Lopez apparently failed to mention regarding issuance of passports to individuals connected to Hezbollah. Also quoted in this article is 2002 coup supporter Marco Ferreira, who is clearly a reliable, non-partisan source of information. This claim is both circularly sourced (to Misael Lopez) and deliberately misleading and assumptive that the reader will not attempt to verify the source. To be fair, Medrano did in fact make the accusation asserted in the report, but not until eight years after he vacated his position at the embassy in Damascus, and two years following the initial claim made by Misael Lopez.

6. Venezuela is an oppressive narco-state enabled by Cuba that stands to impede the peace process in Colombia

There are two sources provided for this claim, both of which are outdated and neutral or left leaning analyses that have deliberately been built upon and extrapolated to the point that they are no longer recognisable. Source 77 is an article published by David Smilde in July of 2016, prior to the implementation of the peace accord brokered in Havana by Rodrigo Londono, Raul Castro, and Juan Manuel Santos. Since “Kingpins and Corruption” was published in June of 2017, long after a revised peace accord was reached by Londono and Santos, (for which Santos alone was awarded a Nobel Prize) this source document is no longer relevant to the topic. Further, the main impediment to the peace process before an agreement was reached was an aggressive campaign waged by Colombian ex-President Alvaro Uribe, a staunch ally of Roger Noriega with whom he agrees on issues pertaining to the FARC and the alleged “concessions” the peace agreement makes to them. It is worth noting, in his defence and as an illustration of Noriega’s opportunism, that Smilde has repeatedly taken issue with claims made by Noriega such as his allegations of a Venezuelan-Iranian nuclear program under Chavez. Source 78 leads to a high-level summary of a document published by Harold Trinkunas of Brookings Institute in June of 2014 noting his personal perspective regarding the voluntary exchange of resources and skilled labour between Cuba and Venezuela, and how those could be modified to lessen economic cost and purported Cuban influence in Venezuela. Trinkunas also recommends easing of the US embargo on Cuba, further illustration that Noriega will use any opinion in support of his own agenda, no matter how strongly he disagrees with it. This claim is not circularly sourced, but the timeframes in which the source documents were published prove that it is dishonest, desperate, reaching, and assumptive of the reader’s lack of ability to verify information independently.

7. Testimony and interviews given by Walid Makled and Eladio Aponte Aponte provide evidence that senior Venezuelan officials are involved in drug trafficking and corruption

This claim is sourced from an article published by El Nuevo Herald that is no longer accessible, however many spin-off articles exist, stating that Justice Eladio Aponte Aponte left Venezuela voluntarily to cooperate with the DEA and testify against senior Chavista officials. To understand the nature of these allegations, it is necessary to understand the complete history of Justice Aponte specifically as it relates to Walid Makled and Cliver Alcala.

Aponte was relieved of his position as Supreme Court Justice after an investigation suggested that he had provided false credentials to businessman/narcotrafficker Walid Makled. This was discovered by military officials under the command of General Cliver Alcala Cordones during a raid at Makled’s property in 2008 in which three of Makled’s brothers were arrested. Makled did not have any significant political leanings until the attempted coup d’etat of 2002, at which point he befriended several Venezuelan officials during the oil strike of that same year. His relationship with Government officials began to fracture in 2006 over investigations into his business practices, and he was arrested in Colombia in 2010 on several charges levied by Venezuela , including drug trafficking and homicide, and by the United States, which asked for extradition based on charges of drug trafficking. President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia made the unexpected decision to extradite Makled to Venezuela stating “I am obliged to comply with the Constitution and the law. We have an extradition agreement with Venezuela, not with the United States.”

Upon arrest, Makled made numerous inflammatory statements, including that he was certain the US would issue an arrest warrant for General Cliver Alcala, whom he claimed had planted 400 kilos of cocaine at his property during the 2008 raid. During his time at La Picota prison south of Bogota, Makled denied his participation and that of his family in the killings of Francisco Larrazabal and Orel Sambrano, who was murdered shortly after publishing a column linking Makled to the seizure of drugs by Cliver Alcala in Zulia, a murder which the Venezuelan government then attributed to Makled. “They were not my enemies, anyone could have killed them,” he said. “My enemy is Clíver Alcala. I will be his shadow.” He has also stated that he believes that after Cliver Alcala planted drugs on his property, Alcala had Orel Sambrano murdered to implicate him in the crime.

When asked what evidence he possessed that Cliver Alcala planted drugs on his property in 2008, Makled claimed that during his time in Colombia, he was visited at the prosecutor’s office by 13 high-ranking DEA, FBI and CIA officials who sought his extradition. According to Makled, US intelligence agents from the Embassy of Colombia approached him with offers of reduced jail time, stating “If you go to court with us, we’ll give you 30 years. If you admit that you took the plane, we’ll give you ten years, and considering everything you could provide us with on the Venezuelan Government, it may be less than 36 months.” After the visit, Makled had decided he wanted collaborate with the US, since “In the United States, with luck, I would spend a year in prison and I’d be free”. He was also motivated by the fact that he thought he could influence US prosecutors’ decision to pursue his enemies. According to statements he made prior to his extradition, he had told officials of the United States “I want to collaborate, but I want you to issue an arrest warrant for General Cliver Alcala”.

Makled used his past experience as the owner of private airline Aeropostal to implicate the entire Venezuelan government in narco-trafficking and corruption, telling an interviewer before his trial “they are going to have to answer to the American Government. They have to give a good explanation: how is it that I had the Port of Puerto Cabello, storage in La Guaira,access to the airport in Valencia, how is it that I had Aeropostal, how is it that the National Government gave the permits to operate and I am a drug trafficker? They have to explain many things. The easiest way was to plant drugs to get rid of me, after I served them so much when we did business.” As it turns out, the answers to these questions appear to lie directly at the feet of Eladio Aponte Aponte.

The controversy surrounding Aponte and Makled points to collusion between them, in which Aponte facilitated Makled’s illicit business operations by providing fraudulent documentation and credentials. Aponte was not new to controversy, and had been accused of corruption dating back to the 1980s during his tenure as a military judge in Valencia, however he was able to garner favour with the government after the attempted coup in 2002 by aggressively prosecuting the perpetrators. In early 2012, Aponte was implicated in connection to narco-trafficking after Cuban G2 discovered a large amount of cocaine in a Navy ship located in Puerto Cabello. It was at this point that recent defector and ex-Prosecutor General of Venezuela Luisa Ortega Diaz announced an investigation into Aponte’s ties to drug traffickers, specifically Walid Makled, and he subsequently fled to Puerto Rico, where he surrendered to the DEA in order to avoid facing justice in Venezuela in favour of negotiating a plea deal in which he would provide information to the United States, including the alleged involvement of General Cliver Alcala with Walid Makled.

This claim is not circularly sourced, however the credibility of the sources is extremely dubious and likely to be significantly influenced by personal vendettas as well as motivated by a desire to avoid culpability and obfuscate the culpability of allies and friends.

This disturbing trend illustrating the tireless efforts of wealthy conservative operatives with dubious pasts and even more dubious associations does not bode well for the democratically elected government of Venezuela, which has been constantly plagued by covert U.S. intervention and subversion tactics since the very beginning of Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution. However, a significant factor contributing to the success of their campaign against Maduro has been the willingness of well-meaning foreign observers to buy into the emotional pleas and fear-mongering allegations disseminated on behalf of this political interest group by the mainstream media and U.S. officials, whom the public has historically looked to as reliable sources from which to obtain information about the world around them, particularly the complex world of foreign relations and geopolitics. Sadly, failure to recognise the motives, strategies, and implications of this network and its agenda while the window of opportunity to act is still open will put the public, once again, on the wrong side of history.

On March 2, 1985, President Ronald Reagan addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference, appealing to morality in an effort to secure increased congressional funding for the Contras in Nicaragua. “You know the truth about them, you know who they’re fighting and why. They are the moral equal of our Founding Fathers and the brave men and women of the French Resistance. We cannot turn away from them,’’ he said. “For the struggle here is not right versus left, but right versus wrong.’’

The Contras went on to murder over 50,000 peasant families — including women, the elderly, and even infant children; using terror, rape, and torture to impose Washington’s will on the innocent people of Nicaragua. Roger Noriega’s political agenda has been clear since the inception of his career, and his ruthless means are always, in his mind, justified by the end result of eradicating left-populist movements and restoring power to oligarchs, who are ever willing to facilitate the ability of the United States and its allies to exploit their nation and its people for a profit.

*In March 2017, Roger Noriega had this information removed from opensecrets.org — a web cache is available to show the original content