First, the Spanish Justice authorized the extradition to the United States of a former Venezuelan government attorney. Then he approved the handover of a former Chavista spy chief. And, between the two decisions, Cape Verde sent to Miami a businessman linked to the government of Nicolás Maduro accused of money laundering.
This string of events known only in the last week has attracted international attention and raises an obvious question: could the Justice of USA become in fact a kind of court on chavismo?
“To some extent, yes,” replies Javier Corrales, a political science professor at Amherst College in the US who has written books and articles on Venezuela. “That is why it is important that these cases are handled well,” he added in statements to BBC Mundo.
The importance of the three people required by the US arises from the proximity they had with the top of power in Venezuela.
Alex Saab, extradited to Miami on Saturday and brought before a federal court in that city on Monday, was one of Maduro’s closest collaborators. He is accused of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars from a corruption scheme in the South American country.
Hugo Carvajal led the Venezuelan military counterintelligence during the governments of Hugo Chavez and Maduro, with whom he publicly broke up in 2019. He is detained in Spain, where the National High Court accepted his extradition to the US on Wednesday to face drug trafficking charges, something he tries to avoid.
The same Spanish court has also given the green light to the extradition to the United States of Claudia Diaz, a national ex-treasurer ofl government of Venezuela and ex-Chávez nurse charged in Florida court with conspiracy to launder money.
These processes run on separate lanes but, according to some analysts, any of them could uncover compromising information for the Venezuelan government.
“These cases can become a kind of Pandora Plus Papers,” says Corrales, referring to the documents leaked by the press a few days ago that showed the use of tax havens by high-ranking government officials from around the world. “They are going to generate more information about how governments work than those papers.”
However, he warns that “they must carefully follow legal processes and the handling of the evidence so that the US does not end up being seen as the bad actor in this chapter of Chavismo ”.
“The wheels of justice”
For now, Saab’s extradition to Miami has become a new stumbling block in relations between the US and Venezuela.
Maduro has presented Saab as a diplomatic envoy and accused Washington of kidnapping him in violation of international law.
He also claimed, without presenting evidence, that members of the US government sought to extract false testimonies from the Colombian businessman about the Venezuelan government through torture.
“They wanted to force him to lie and turn him into a monster to be a false accuser against Venezuela, which Alex Saab never accepted,” Maduro said on the state channel Telesur on Sunday.
His government suspended negotiations with the opposition Venezuelan in Mexico and sent six oil executives, five of them US citizens, to prison.
The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, regretted on Tuesday that the Maduro government abandoned the dialogue with the opposition, which in his opinion indicates that the president “puts self-interest before the interests of the Venezuelan people.”
Blinken also argued during a tour of South America that Saab’s extradition process has been ongoing for years and is independent of what happens in the political arena.
Some analysts even point out that the suspension of negotiations between Chavismo and the opposition as a result of this case seems contrary to the interests of the Joe Biden government, which had supported this dialogue and announced its willingness to review sanctions against Venezuela if it progressed. .
“This is not something that they [en el gobierno de EE.UU.] they were looking for“Says David Smilde, senior advisor to the Washington Office for Latin American Affairs (WOLA), a research center that promotes human rights in the region specialized in Venezuela.
But he maintains that the White House can do little or nothing in processes of this type, initiated in previous governments.
“An administration has influence in directing justice towards certain cases, but once the case begins, there are judicial accusations and now extraditions, it is very difficult for them to intercede to reverse that: the wheels of justice are already rolling,” he says. Smilde to BBC Mundo.
And he explains that the fact that cities like New York or Miami are important places in the international financial system, allows the US to prosecute foreigners for alleged money laundering that passes through its banks.
Regarding Saab, the US Department of Justice has stated that it participated in the transfer of some $ 350 million dollars that passed through US bank accounts diverted from a social housing project in Venezuela.
“Yes, [EE.UU.] It has become almost the prosecutorSmilde says. “As the courts in Venezuela do not pursue these cases, the US is doing so.”
“Fulfill that role”
The United States has already held sensitive trials for Chavismo in recent years.
For example, in December 2017 a federal judge in New York sentenced 18 years in prison for drug trafficking to two nephews of Cilia Flores, Maduro’s wife, who also indicated then that it was a case fabricated against him.
In November 2018, a federal judge in Miami sentenced to 10 years in prison for laundering hundreds of millions of dollars from Alejandro Andrade, a former bodyguard of Chávez who was promoted to national treasurer of Venezuela.
This week, the US justice reduced Andrade’s sentence to 42 months in prison for having collaborated with the authorities after pleading guilty, handing over valuable assets and information against other Chavismo figures, including Claudia Díaz.
The former Venezuelan minister told BBC Mundo in 2018 that when Chávez was incapacitated by cancer, she received instructions outside the law from Venezuelan “high officials” which she refused.
Many are now wondering if Saab, perhaps encouraged by the large reduction in Andrade’s sentence, will also agree to collaborate with American researchers, who they suspect who acted like one of Maduro’s main front men and his or her environment.
The Venezuelan opposition also has the expectation that the process against Saab will strip information about the Venezuela’s ties with Iran and Russia, since they maintain that the businessman wove hidden networks with these countries to avoid Washington sanctions.
The powerful Chavista deputy Diosdado Cabello admitted this week that Saab “was one of those in charge of circumventing all the persecutions of imperialism against the country.”
“He was able to bring to Venezuela even gasoline, medicine, food. What did you get paid? Yeah right. But it is that anyone could be paid. The problem is that very few wanted to fulfill that role, “said Cabello in his weekly program” Con el mazo giving. “
The Venezuelan government has taken a different attitude with its former chief spy “El Pollo” Carvajal, arrested in Madrid in September and accused by the US of drug trafficking — including the shipment of 5.6 tons of cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico in 2006— , charges that he rejects.
Although he still tries to evade his extradition through appeals and petitions, the Venezuelan general could end up telling what he knows of hidden activities in his country.
In fact, Spanish media have reported that as part of his strategy to avoid being sent to New York, Carvajal has already provided information to the Spanish justice on alleged financing that the Venezuelan government granted years ago to its left-wing allies in Latin America and Spain. .
After the arrest of “El Pollo”, the Venezuelan Prosecutor’s Office also asked Spain for his extradition to try him for “sedition and treason.”
Smilde compares that Carvajal may have “more politically interesting information” than Saab, but the Chavistas have defended the latter much more.
“They want to show their other collaborators that they are not going to forget Saab easily,” he maintains, “and they are going to try to do what they can to protect it.”
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