(This post is an update to an earlier article titled “Dime con quien andas” that was posted on 9 February 2012)
The day after Miami-based SOiTV (and Globovision) broadcast SOiTV’s exclusive interview with former Supreme Court Justice Eladio Aponte Aponte (see link below), several US congressional staffers were informed by former US Assistant Secretary State for Latin America Roger Noriega that Venezuelan banker Eligio Cedeno is being investigated by the DEA .
I learned about this when a congressional source I’ve known personally since the mid-1990s contacted me to ask if I thought that Noriega’s allegation about Cedeno could be true. I blogged a bit about the crooked Bolibourgeois bankers in 2009, and this source wondered if I knew more than I blogged about. Nope, I replied. But during that communication, I also learned for the first time that Cedeno apparently owns, or is the primary financier, of SOiTV.
For the record: I did some consulting work in Venezuela for Cedeno, for a trio of his US attorneys, while he was jailed in 2009. Judge Afiuni freed him during the course of my work, and as a result the attorneys declined to pay me as agreed. I have never been paid a penny by Cedeno or anyone associated with him for anything except to reimburse my time and travel expenses on the one occasion that I met with his lawyers in October 2009. I have never met Cedeno personally and never have had any contact with him at all.
The chat with my old congressional source piqued my interest.
Go figure: The day immediately after SOiTV airs an interview, in which the Chavez regime’s top narco-judge accuses his former criminal associates of drug trafficking and unconstitutionally abusing judicial due process, a former US Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America personally informs US congressional staffers that SOiTV’s owner/financier is being investigated for alleged drug trafficking by the DEA?
I don’t believe in accidental coincidences when it involves Cubazuela politicking in Venezuela, Miami or Washington, DC.
The timing and topic of Noriega’s communication with the congressional staffers was… very odd, I thought.
So I decided to dig around a bit, call some people, fish on line, find out what Cedeno has been up to. I also reached out indirectly to contacts inside the DEA and US Attorney’s office in Miami.
I confirmed that Noriega did, in fact, communicate with congressional staffers to inform them that the DEA is investigating Cedeno.
The DEA, as always, officially declines to confirm or deny anything, but unofficially I learned that Cedeno is not a “person of interest” to the DEA.
The US Attorney’s office in Miami is not investigating Cedeno either and has no knowledge of any investigation against Cedeno anywhere in the US.
Based on what I learned, I wrote a draft post that was titled “Roger Noriega, Castro’s Dupe?” and e-mailed the draft to two individuals for their feedback, criticism, suggestions, etc. I didn’t expect to post that first draft.
Yeah, I know…e-mail…duh…my bad.
The morning of the following day, 20 April, I already had decided to discard that first draft completely and write a wholly different article, when I received the following e-mail from Noriega:
“Your piece is filled with slanderous lies. I have know (sic) idea what your motives are, and I don’t care. But I am putting you on notice that several specific statements you make about me and my associates are absolute falsehoods. I am prepared to explain them to you or your representative. That said, If (sic) you proceed to publish this commentary, you will be doing it with malicious intent. Roger Noriega”
My reply follows:
I haven’t published anything, so I have no idea what ‘slanderous lies’ you make reference to. I’m working on a couple of articles about Aponte Aponte and I was told by several people about your calls yesterday saying that Cedeno is being investigated by DEA based on information obtained from Aponte Aponte. Odd, considering that Cedeno was granted political asylum by a US immigration judge after a trial. You’ve also shared directly with me your opinions about certain individuals in a recent telephone conversation. What falsehoods, specifically, have I said about you? Please list them here, in writing. But always am happy to chat with you.”
No response, so I sent a follow-up e-mail:
This is my second offer in writing, in less than 24 hours, inviting you to clarify in writing precisely what ‘slanderous lies’ and ‘absolute falsehoods’ that I allegedly have written in an article that has not been published anywhere in the world. Meanwhile, I have confirmed the particulars of some phone calls that you made to people in Congress. I’d like to know, as would my readers, why you are making clandestine allegations against a third party without any official govt evidence to substantiate what you’re alleging. If you choose not to reply I’ll take that as meaning that you do not dispute that you made phone calls to communicate ubsubstantiated (sic) allegations against third parties. Look forward to hearing from you.”
On 21 April, finally, Noriega replied:
“I am not confirming anything in your piece. And I will not have any further direct contact with you…(redacted)… As for my private conversations with Congressional staff on this subject, I have shared and will share our email exchange with them so they can fully understand your malicious intent in spreading slanderous falsehoods about my associates and me, and so that they know that you are working with (redacted) who is acting as an agent of Mr. Cedeno. Roger Noriega”
Redacted has explicitly said that I cannot mention him by name. But for the record, Redacted is one of over a dozen people that I spoke with about this issue, and neither he nor anyone else asked me to write anything.
Several, in fact, including Redacted, said “let it go…” which I was inclined to do until Noriega sent me that first menacing e-mail. Noriega also forwarded the draft of my unpublished article to a group of congressional staffers who otherwise never would have known of its existence.
I wrote the original unpublished draft because, frankly, it intrigues me that Noriega, a former US Assistant Secretary of State but now only a private citizen, is using his access to Capitol Hill to clandestinely make very serious allegations against a Venezuelan who resides legally in the US – allegations that subsequently are refuted unofficially by the DEA and by the US Attorney’s office in Miami.
Let’s be clear: In the US, alleging that someone is a drug trafficker is a very serious thing. But in the specific case of the US Congress, congressional staffers will never meet knowingly with someone who they suspect is under US investigation for drug trafficking. Noriega’s act of communicating to congressional staffers that Cedeno is being investigated for drug trafficking, when in fact that is not the case, potentially can have a very grave impact on Cedeno as a legal resident of the US and as a businessman. Worse, still, is that Noriega’s allegation against Cedeno is reinforced implicitly among congressional staffers who probably know little/nothing about Cedeno by his status as a former US Assistant Secretary of State and US Ambassador to the OAS.
But this isn’t the first time in recent years that Noriega has been the originating source of verifiably inaccurate information about the Chavez regime.
Over the past several years Noriega, who runs a private group in Washington, DC called Vision Americas, has reached out pro-actively to legislators, policy makers and news media offering “intelligence” about President Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian regime’s alleged terrorist associations with Iran.
Noriega also has been a frequent source of allegedly insider information about Chavez’s health since before the Venezuelan leader was operated for cancer in Havana last June.
Much of the information that Noriega disseminates has been accurate. But some of it is verifiably inaccurate and even has been refuted officially by the US government.
Following are two examples of specific claims that were made originally by Noriega, both refuted:
One, Noriega was the primary source of the information used by a German news media about two years ago that claimed that the Iranians were building a secret missile base on the Paraguana Peninsula capable of hitting Miami and points north.
About the same time, Noriega testified at a congressional hearing that intelligence sources believed that the Iranians were building a missile base in Paraguana capable of hitting the US mainland.
The State Department was asked by alarmed legislators to send someone to appear before their committee to confirm or deny Noriega’s allegations.
Kevin Whittaker, currently the deputy assistant secretary of state for South America, testified in a closed-door hearing that the US government could not corroborate the claim.
For the uninitiated into Washington diplo-speak, Whittaker’s response was State’s appropriately polite way of saying that Noriega could not be more mistaken.
Two, earlier this year Noriega penned an op-ed in which he said that Chavez was taking cocaine for his cancer. That allegation also was refuted.
Noriega insists that his information about Chavez is 100% accurate, but he won’t – or can’t – prove his claims to skeptics, even when pressed privately.
Where does Noriega obtain his information about Chavez?
“I have good sources high up in the Chavez government,” Noriega says.
I’m told that Noriega’s primary information supplier is Martin Rodil, a Venezuelan who lives in the DC area and whose curriculum contains exaggerations with respect to his past professional activities.
Rodil has been overheard repeatedly by different sources in DC claiming that he can “get any document that you want” from inside the Chavez regime.
Before Rodil joined Noriega’s operation, he was briefly associated with Norman Bailey, but the partnership ended acrimoniously in a US court with Bailey accusing Rodil of theft. The court records were sealed after an Israeli friend of Rodil’s persuaded the judge that the records must be sealed for “US national security reasons.”
I’m also told that Rodil is associated with Esteban Gerbasi, a Venezuelan citizen who is actively involved with Rodil in obtaining information that Noriega subsequently disseminates, according to several accounts.
Some people that I know personally in DC have asked Noriega privately about some of his claims about the Chavez regime; a few have challenged the accuracy of allegations like the alleged secret Iranian missile base that turned out to be bogus.
Noriega becomes furious when his claims are challenged by others directly or indirectly, and speaks very disparagingly about some of the people who have refuted his wilder allegations about the Chavez regime.
For example, during a telephone conversation with me earlier this year, Noriega disparaged Whittaker, the State Department official who told Senators Menendez (Democrat) and Rubio (Republican) that Noriega’s claims about the alleged Iranian missile base could not be corroborated by the US government.
In the unpublished draft that so enraged Noriega, I said:
“I suspect that Fidel Castro’s intelligence services, which have romped freely in Washington, DC for the past half-century, could be playing former US Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega to disseminate disinformation about the Chavez regime. I don’t have any smoking gun evidence to support my suspicions that Noriega unwittingly is being played by the Castro regime’s G-2 spymasters – just a powerful gut instinct that springs from almost 40 years of personal experience at the margins of Venezuelan politics.”
The above is one of three theories, which may or may not overlap.
Theory 1: The Cubazuela intelligence/counterintelligence machine is feeding Rodil and Gerbasi a mix of accurate and false intelligence that is then supplied to Noriega, who disseminates the material with the explicit imprimatur of his status as a former Assistant Secretary of State and OAS Ambassador. Noriega is the unwitting conduit for this mix of real and false “intelligence.” Rodil and Gerbasi, described by someone who knows them as “clueless,” also are being played by the Cubazuela counter-intelligence machine. The disinformation likely has different purposes: 1) distract US attention from other issues in Venezuela , 2) confuse US policymakers (most congressional staffers and their bosses are not well-versed in Latin American issues), 3) set up future opportunities to discredit the US government. If Cedeno can be discredited in the US and Venezuela by a former senior official like Noriega, then possibly Aponte Aponte’s credibility also can be shot down in the US Congress, where US legislators who care about the situation in Venezuela might be persuaded that Aponte is a congenital liar; but Noriega doesn’t know he’s being played.
Theory 2: Someone involved financially or operationally with the Venezuelan component of Noriega’s Vision Americas operation possibly has a grudge against Cedeno. Anyone who has spent serious time in-country in Venezuela knows that the country’s banking system is hugely corrupt – before and since Chavez. There are a handful of good banks managed professionally by men and women of great integrity and honesty. But generally, Venezuelan bankers are a scurrilous pack of scoundrels. Cedeno made a lot of money in banking and likely stepped on toes whilst climbing fortune’s ladder. It’s plausible that someone with a direct or indirect stake in the Venezuelan components of Vision Americas are using Noriega, again unwittingly, to disseminate disinformation calculated to make Cedeno appear to be involved in drug trafficking – even if by extension that meme also discredits Aponte Aponte.
Theory 3: Noriega is ambitious, impulsive, but also a bit naïve, considering that he apparently accepts the information he receives via Rodil as 100% genuine. Washington is an intoxicating – and too often also toxic – place to work. The notorious “revolving door” permits former government officials to leverage the contacts made whilst in government to earn a living as private consultants and lobbyists, always eyeing possible future job opportunities in the next administration. When Latin American moneyed types and governments are seeking influence in Washington, DC, they tend to seek out former highly-placed government officials-turned-consultants/lobbyists (i.e. political access merchants). But Latin America generally is small potatoes with both political parties, and the competition for consulting/lobbying contracts and government posts involving Latin America is fierce. To be taken into account by the big dawgs in DC’s politics, one must stand apart from the rest of the crowd. Yet at the same time, the “pool” of Latin America expertise – and particularly Venezuela expertise – tends to be very small and decidedly too partisan in some quarters. Visualize Moses parting the waters in a turtle bowl. Maybe it’s just a case of trying too hard to stand out above the rest.
Me sainted Irish grandmother, God rest her soul, would have said, “Meshuggah!”