“The more robust, twenty-first-century model for survivability is based on the combination of guerrilla groups and transnational crime. Both have a similar set of goals – ineffectual governments to work around – and are quickly developing similar, twenty-first century networks. Especially as proxy wars proliferate, the line between the two will blur.” (P. 148-149, Brave New War)
Moises Naim’s book – Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy – shows how “globalization and unrestricted interconnectivity have led to the rise of vast global smuggling networks…(that) live in the spaces between states…simultaneously everywhere and nowhere.”
Robb’s book focuses on Islamic terrorism more than transnational crime. Certainly, there’s no mention of Venezuela or Latin America anywhere in “Brave New War – The next stage of terrorism and the end of globalization” (2007, John Wiley & Sons). But the book’s Chapter 7: “Guerrilla Entrepreneurs,” describes the seamless, inevitable, even logical fusion of guerrilla and transnational crime groups into powerful new global non-state actors capable of challenging, disrupting, destabilizing, infiltrating and ultimately gaining control over vital state institutions.
Robb, citing Naim, says that the new 21st Century model of combined (or merged) transnational crime and guerrilla groups “…make money through an arbitrage of the differences between the legal systems and the level of law enforcement of our isolated islands of sovereignty…they use the vast profits of their operations to overwhelm underpaid government employees with floods of corruption. This allows them to take control of otherwise functional states.”
It doesn’t cost a great deal of money to thoroughly corrupt a developing nation’s institutions, says Naim.
The “combination of guerrilla and transnational crime groups” described by Robb aptly describes the criminalization of the Venezuelan state during the decade that President Hugo Chavez has been in power.
Of course, the Venezuelan state already was vulnerable prey thanks to Chavez’s predecessors. Almost four decades of Accion Democratic and Copei thoroughly corrupted and ruined the Venezuelan state. When Chavez became president in 1999 he assumed control of government, judicidial and other institutions which literally were in their death throes “…como cucaracha en baile de gallinas.” Indeed, most of the Venezuelan intelligentsia, business, labor and political figures who oppose Chavez today endorsed him enthusiastically during the 1998 presidential elections, just to be rid of AD and Copei.
Chavez has burned through almost $1 trillion of oil revenues during his decade in power. At least $100 billion of that oil revenue, conservatively, has been stolen by the “global guerrillas” entrenched at the highest levels of the Chavez regime.
If this sounds like a very large number, perhaps incredibly large, consider this small snippet of the larger story:
*Arne Chacon Escamillo, co-owner of Baninvest and other financial institutions, and also the brother of Technology and Science Minister Jesse Chacon, said in June 2009 that he has $1 billion in cash in hand to purchase banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions. However, in 2002 Arne Chacon was basically penniless. Arne Chacon claims to have purchased 49% of Baninvest in 2004 with a written pledge to pay majority owner Pedro Torres Ciliberto with part of his salary and future dividends as Baninvest’s minority owner.
*Ricardo Fernandez Barrueco, a Colombian-Venezuelan “entrepreneur” who operates out of Panama, claimed a net worth of $1.6 billion in 2006. He owns several small Venezuelan banks including Banpro, which he acquired after Jorge Azpurua, the son of Banpro’s major stakeholder, was kidnapped in early 2005. Investigators confirmed that Azpurua’s abduction was related to Fernandez Barrueco’s campaign to buy Banpro.
*Arne Chacon and Fernandez Barrueco claim their respective financial groups have no ties whatsoever; different shareholders, different management teams, different sources of capital. But this claim is untrue. The small but ambitious financial groups built around Baninvest and Banpro have a common controlling silent partner: Public Works and Housing Minister Diosdado Cabello.
*Fernandez Barrueco is a silent business associate of Cabello and of Rafael Sarria, Jr., who inherited his personal seed capital and what little he knows about finance from his father. Junior is a childhood friend and lifelong confidant of Cabello. Currently he is Cabello’s most trusted financial adviser.
*Sarria’s personal net worth reportedly is on a par with that of Fernandez Barrueco, but Cabello’s net worth allegedly is much greater, in the range of $2.5 billion to $3 billion.
The group headed clandestinely by Cabello, with senior trusted associates Sarria and Fernandez Barrueco, is only one of many groups within the Chavez regime which arguably can be described as transnational organized crime groups.
Finance is the Cabello group’s core interest. Through various front-men like the putative owners of the Baninvest and Banpro groups, Cabello’s group has acquired control of at least six banks whose combined deposits account for a bit less than five percent of the financial system’s total deposits. But this group is actively shopping for more banks and insurance companies. For example, it is quietly seeking to buy Banco Venezolano de Credito.
This group is not above criminal shenanigans like the abduction of Jorge Azpurua in 2005 to force the sale of Banpro to Fernandez Barrueco. The intellectual authors of German Garcia Velutini’s abduction in February 2009 form part of this group. Panamanian police tell Caracas Gringo that Fernandez Barrueco is also implicated directly in the abduction in Panama and forced transport to Venezuela of a Venezuelan citizen, Gustavo Arraiz, who now sits in a DISIP prison cell charged in connection with the alleged Microstar fraud.
Two other transnational crime groups operating at senior levels of the Chavez regime are headed by (1) General Hugo Carvajal, director of the Defense Ministry’s intelligence division (DGIM) since 2004, and (2) General Henry Rangel Silva, who was director of the Interior & Justice Ministry’s political police (DISIP) from 2005 until last week when President Chavez replaced him with General Miguel Rodriguez Torres, who served as DISIP’s director from 2002 until June 2005.
Rangel Silva was replaced as DISIP’s director just last week after Colombia’s government confirmed the seizure of several Swedish-made AT-4 man portable rockets in 2008 at two FARC camps in Colombia. The Swedish manufacturer confirmed from the serial numbers that the AT-4’s recovered in the FARC camps in Colombia were part of a shipment sold to Venezuela’s armed forces years ago, before 2002.
Colombia’s government is certain the AT-4’s were supplied to the FARC via DGIM director Carvajal. It’s unclear how Rangel Silva was involved, but he also is a longtime strategic and business associate of the FARC and ELN. In fact, DISIP sources claim that immediately after new DISIP Director Rodriguez Torres took control last week, he discovered two individuals being held in prison cells at DISIP headquarters who had been reported by their families as kidnapped.
In September 2008, the US Treasury Department’s office of foreign assets control (OFAC) designated Carvajal and Rangel Silva as “kingpins” – material collaborators of the FARC, which the US has officially designated a narco-terrorist group. The evidence used by OFAC to substantiate its decision included numerous documents extracted from laptops seized on 1 March 2008 in a camp in northern Ecuador where FARC No. 2 chieftain Raul Reyes was killed by a Colombian air strike.
These captured FARC documents confirmed that Carvajal, Rangel Silva, and former Interior & Justice Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin (who also was designated a “kingpin” in September 2008), cooperated actively with senior FARC leaders, including:
*Pledging cash contributions by Chavez to the FARC of $250 million to $300 million (Rodriguez Chacin).
*Offering to help the FARC acquire sophisticated weapons including man portable surface to air missiles like the Russian-made 9K38 Igla, a two color infrared guided surface-to-air missile (SAM) with an operational range of 3.2 miles (5.2 km) and a flight ceiling of 11,000 feet (3.5 km).
*Offering to smuggle weapons illegally acquired by the FARC through the port of Maracaibo in Zulia.
*Providing Venezuelan documents, official security details, housing and financial support to senior FARC leaders. The Colombian government says at least nine of the FARC’s highest-rankig leaders are hiding permanently in Venezuela.
*Protecting FARC narcotics trans-shipments through Venezuelan territory.
But OFAC’s explanation barely scratched the surface of the criminal activities in which the groups headed by Carvajal and Rangel Silva are involved.
Select DGIM and DISIP officials who report directly to the directors of both intelligence & counter-intelligence entities (meaning Carvajal and Rangel Silva) cooperate actively with the FARC and ELN on a daily basis, particularly in the states which share borders with Colombia to ensure that FARC and ELN forces residing permanently in Venezuela are not molested.
Army and National Guard forces deployed in Venezuela’s border states also are under longstanding presidential orders (since 1999) to cooperate with the FARC and ELN. This is a matter of public record contained in news reports going back to 2000 by Venezuelan dailies like El Universal and El Nacional. These news reports are based on critical letters and official army intelligence documents penned by senior Venezuelan army officers like Division General Nestor Gonzalez Gonzalez and Division General Manuel Rosendo.
The FARC’s 10th, 16th and 45th Fronts are permanently based in Venezuelan territory, mainly in the states of Apure and Barinas. The small city of Guasdualito in Apure, just across the border from Colombia’s Arauca department, is 100% FARC country.
Practically all of the illegal suspected drug flights which US counternarcotics teams have detected originating from inside Venezuela between 2004 and 2008 took off from clandestine landing strips in Apure.
These three Fronts are the FARC’s main narcotics/weapons smuggling and money laundering operations on the Colombian-Venezuelan border. Together, these FARC Fronts account for over 70% of the cocaine smuggled through Venezuela to the United States, European Union and, increasingly, to parts of Western Africa and the Middle East.
Overall, these FARC Fronts have about 1,000 fighters permanently deployed inside Venezuela, including many who are highly specialized and proficient in the evil business of kidnapping.
The Chavez regime’s warm relations with the FARC and ELN have made it extraordinarily easy since 2002 for these narco-terrorist groups to move their assembly-line kidnapping operations into Venezuela. A total of 537 people were kidnapped in Venezuela in 2008, and trends so far in 2009 suggest about 900 abductions may occur this year.
The FARC is responsible for the majority of these kidnappings, followed by the ELN, and other organized crime groups operating inside the National Guard, CICPC, and other police entities throughout Venezuela.
However, there are also criminal kidnapping groups working clandestinely inside otherwise reputable private security services companies that work for some of the country’s largest banks and industrial/commercial groups.
Moreover, the surge in kidnappings which has vaulted Venezuela since 2004 ahead of Colombia, Brazil and Mexico in terms of abductions per capita coincides with alarming precision with President Chavez’s decision to appoint General Carvajal to head DGIM and General Rangel Silva to head DISIP in 2004-2005.