One of Venezuela's most powerful politicians might be the kingpin of a massive cocaine drug cartel.
Diosdado Cabello, president of Venezuela's National Assembly and regarded as the second-most powerful person in the country's ruling Socialist party, is at the heart of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation on suspicion of being the head of a major cocaine cartel.
The DEA is investigating top Venezuelan government officials upon the suspicion they are leading a large cocaine cartel in Venezuela, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. Former cocaine traffickers who worked closely with incriminated top government officials, along with ex-informants and military defectors, are working with a special DEA team in Washington D.C. and federal prosecutors in Miami and New York to help build the case.
"There is extensive evidence to justify that he [Cabello] is one of the heads, if not the head, of the cartel," a Justice Department official said, according to the Wall Street Journal. "He certainly is a main target."
While it remains uncertain how the DEA and federal prosecutors intend to pursue this case, the U.S. can freeze assets abroad and make it very difficult for involved officials to travel.
Pushback: Cabello vehemently refutes these claims, blaming it on a right-wing conspiracy and political opposition. He has also imposed a travel ban on the 22 journalists involved in reporting the United States' allegations of his involvement in drug trafficking and is also suing the three responsible media outlets.
"Those who accuse me today of drug trafficking, let them present one piece of evidence — just one, just one," Cabello said Tuesday in the Venezuelan National Assembly, as reported by the Guardian. "Our whole lives, we have been fighters for the new man and the new woman, and it would never occur to us to get involved in anything that could hurt the young people of Venezuela or the world."
U.S officials have previously accused the Venezuelan military and government of having nefarious connections with Colombia, which has historically been a cocaine haven. Specifically, the Venezuelan authorities are accused of fostering a close relationship with Colombian guerrilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which finances its operations with multibillion-dollar cocaine trafficking.
Is Venezuela the new big player? Colombia's crackdown on FARC, with the assistance of American aid, left a vacuum in the world of Latin American drug cartels, and Venezuela seems to be filling the void.
The country does not actually produce any of the coca leaves, and it doesn't manufacture the drug either. However, according to the last available data in 2013, half of Colombia's cocaine, or 131 tons, was trafficked through Venezuela, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Since former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's death, the country has plunged into disorder and the it's only getting worse. While instability has allowed for the growth of Venezuelan cartels, their success is a double-edged sword. The increasing chaos means informants are more eager to flee and defect, subsequently enhancing the DEA's investigation.
Venezuela is already one of the most violent countries in Latin America, so the fear is it will become the next Colombia, rampant with militants and ruling cartels and hard to control. Perhaps the DEA's probing will help mitigate the growing power of the cartels, but it will take a lot more than an American investigation to repair Venezuela's broken government.