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Pedro M. Burelli : Exposing
Bolivarian Criminal Inc. four guys at a time


The WSJ reports on the long awaited (i.e. long delayed) designation by the US Treasury Department of four key members of Hugo Chávez's innermost circle as kingpins ( Read press release ). This action was deliberately held back for more than two years by a White House clueless as to how to deal with rogue states - and their dangerous leaders. It is unclear why the White House finally gave the green light on this matter, but it is obvious that its "let's be nice" approach has failed everywhere they tried it. 

The descent of Venezuela into full fledged criminal-statehood has accelerated 
in broad daylight, with the likes of President Obama turning a blind eye and President Lula (in and out of power) pimping for Caracas.  Mr. Obama's NSC team has been particularly careless in assessing the real consequences for the US - and the whole Western Hemisphere - of such massive criminal state blossoming two hours south of Miami. Bolivarian Venezuela has essentially erected a neon welcome sign that reads "Open for Criminal Activity 24/7: Impunity Guaranteed". All those around the world in search of a safe haven, a fake passport, a laundromat for ill gotten funds, excellent quality cocaine or untraceable weapons, take comfort in the welcome mat provided by the Chávez regime. Some in the president's own family and visible members of his inner circle - civilian and military - have turned out to be doting partners. 
A recent and extraordinarily documented report by the well-respected International Crisis Group paints a picture that upends the wishful thinking of many in the region. Below a small snippet for the report titled 'Violance and Politics in Venezuela'

Violence and corruption have been facilitated by a steady process of institutional erosion that has become particularly manifest in the justice system and the security forces. While impunity levels soar, highly dysfunctional and abusive police have endangered citizen security. Heavily politicised, the armed forces are increasingly seen as part of the problem, enmeshed with organised crime and pressed by the president to commit themselves to the partisan defence of his “revolution”. The creation, arming and training of pro-governmental militias further increase the danger that political differences may ultimately be settled outside the constitutional framework, through deadly force.

Having taken so long to get to this point, will the Obama administration stop here? Will regional leaders continue to talk about 'new best friends'? If there is a lesson from the Libyan rapprochement fiasco it is that bad guys (usually mentally deranged) only get badder (crazier) with time. Sitting on evidence to see if criminals change their mind is not only futile but irresponsible. The fact that Venezuela does not have an easy fix does not mean it is not a real mess - waiting to get messier as the ICG concludes. As such we should expect less naive political calculation and more serious prosecution of crimes for which there are mountain loads of evidence. These four designations are significant, but why are so many still allowed to rummage unexposed? When will the master of it all - cancer notwithstanding - be presented to the world for what he is? 


WSJ | September 8 2011

U.S. Puts Venezuelan Officials on Blacklist


The U.S. added a Venezuelan general, two legislators and a top Venezuelan intelligence official to a kingpins list for their alleged involvement in drug dealing and arms trafficking with Colombian guerrillas, the U.S. Treasury said Thursday.

The action spotlights what U.S. officials say are President Hugo Chávez's close links to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC. "Today's action exposes four Venezuelan government officials as key facilitators of arms, security training and other assistance in support of the FARC's operations in Venezuela,' said Adam Szubin, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Treasury unit that levied the charges.

Venezuela's foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, said on television, "We repudiate it. The United States is a sick society. It's the place were the most drugs are consumed. We do not accept that any government would accuse decent citizens of our country."

A spokeswoman for Colombia's foreign affairs ministry said the government declined to comment.

The U.S. Treasury added Gen. Cliver Alcalá, who commands one of the Venezuelan army's most important units, and Freddy Bernal, the former mayor of Caracas, now a ruling-party congressman, to the blacklist. The U.S. said Gen. Alcalá organized an arms-for-drugs route for the guerrillas and Mr. Bernal facilitated arms sales to the communist guerrillas.

Amilcar Figueroa, known as Tino, who is a member of Venezuela's delegation to the Latin American Parliament, was also placed on the list. The U.S. Treasury said Mr. Figueroa served as a primary arms dealer for the guerrillas.

Ramon Isidro Madriz Moreno, known as Amin, a key officer in Venezuela's intelligence service known as SEBIN, was also placed on the list. The U.S. said Mr. Madriz Moreno has coordinated security for the FARC.

U.S. citizens are prohibited from engaging in transactions with individuals or organizations on the blacklist.

The FARC, Latin America's oldest and largest guerrilla organization, funds much of its activity by drug smuggling and kidnapping. It has long been considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union.

The four men join Venezuela's top general, Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, and Gen. Hugo Carvajal, head of Venezuela's military intelligence, on the U.S. Treasury blacklist. Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, Venezuela's former interior minister, was also placed on the list at the same time.

The alleged links between Mr. Chávez and the FARC were dramatically exposed when a Colombian cross-border military raid into Ecuador in 2008 killed Raúl Reyes, a top FARC commander. As a result of the raid, the Colombians captured Mr. Reyes' computers, which yielded a wealth of information about Venezuelan support for the guerrillas. At the time, Mr. Chávez denied the accusations of support and said the captured computer files were phony.

Among the emails recovered from the Reyes documents was a report of a meeting between Gen. Alcala and a top FARC commander in Venezuela in 2006. The FARC commander recounted to his colleagues Gen. Alcala's offer of obtaining shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and piggybacking the weapons to the guerrillas through the Venezuelan port of Maracaibo, which Gen. Alcala controlled, aboard shipments of weapons the Venezuelan government was acquiring from Russia.

"This would provide the perfect cover for any purchase that we make," wrote FARC commander Iván Marquez to his colleagues.

Since then, Mr. Chávez appears to have scaled back his support of the FARC as he has pursued a rapprochement with Colombia's new president, Juan Manuel Santos.

The FARC, which once numbered close to 17,000 men and who a decade ago were at the gates of Bogotá, were driven back into Colombia's jungles and mountains by former President Álvaro Uribe's aggressive military policies, strongly backed by U.S. aid. The guerrillas, who have seen many of their top leaders killed, are now believed to number about 8,000 fighters.

Over the past year, the FARC has changed its tactics and mounted a counterattack of ambushes of army patrols and bombings of Colombia's oil pipelines. The FARC counterattack this week prompted Mr. Santos to replace his defense minister and announce a massive increase in military spending.

—Ezequiel Minaya in Caracas and Dan Molinski in Bogotá contributed to this article.

Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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Pedro M. Burelli is a financial consultant, a former member of PDVSA board of director and ex head of JPMorgan Capital Corporation – Latin America. Most of his articles can be read at Petroleumworld does not necessarily share these views.

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