For the past year or so, I've been writing steadily about WikiLeaks and U.S. diplomatic correspondence between various American embassies in Latin America and the State Department in Washington, D.C. It's a bit difficult for one person to stay on top of all the communication back and forth, and WikiLeaks' recent decision to place all of the remaining cables online has made the researchers' work even more of an uphill climb. In an effort to stay afloat, I decided to sift through many of these cables, taking note of intriguing, incendiary or just plain odd documents which may be worthy of further investigation. In coming weeks, I'll be publishing my own guide to the "Caracas cables" which may aid journalists, researchers or activists.
Drug Trafficking Airline?
More incendiary revelations from WikiLeaks: now comes a cable from 2008 reporting on U.S. wariness of Aeropostal, an airline whose owners, the Makled family, were "Venezuela's preeminent drug traffickers." When Aeropostal sought to extend its flights to the U.S., the American Embassy in Caracas recommended that the request be denied. Furthermore, diplomats believed that the Chávez government's decision to allow the Makleds to purchase Aeropostal "sheds further doubt on Venezuelan aviation security."
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was so worried about Walid Makled that it issued a report entitled "Venezuela: Business Entrepreneur Dominates Cocaine Trade." The report asserted that Makled leveraged "his involvement in the transportation industry to facilitate drug shipments and provide cover for his own illicit activities."
Speaking to the Americans, an Aeropostal representative rejected the allegations but admitted that the new owners of the airline "know nothing about aviation." U.S. diplomats however were unconvinced, remarking that "this claim of ignorance about aviation seems odd, when according to the DIA report, the Makleds own a small airport they use to ferry drugs to Mexico twice a week."
Dodd to Chávez: Give Peace Corps a Chance
In other news, WikiLeaks is filling in the gaps surrounding the tumultuous state of U.S.-Venezuelan relations during the Bush years, and there are some surprises in new cable releases. Take for example one report from 2005 detailing an unusual meeting between Chávez and Democratic Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd. In an effort to dial back much of the ill will between Caracas and the Bush administration, Dodd met with the Venezuelan president at his headquarters in Miraflores palace.
Dodd spoke in Spanish, and by the end of the meeting an "effusive" Chávez was addressing the Senator on a first name basis. When Dodd however suggested that Chávez visit the United States and speak with members of Congress, the Venezuelan president "responded cautiously, saying a visit was unlikely asserting concerns about security."
Chávez added that "there were Venezuelans in the U.S. who called for his murder on public radio, others who engaged with paramilitary organizations to plan his overthrow, and former Venezuelan military officers who attempted to blow up foreign embassies in Caracas." What is more, the U.S. had not granted visas to some members of his security detail.
In a rather unlikely aside, the idealistic Dodd then suggested that Chávez invite the Peace Corps into Venezuela so as to heal relations with the United States. Dodd himself had been a Peace Corps worker at one time, and thought the organization could "assist poor communities in essential areas such as health and education." Hardly biting at the suggestion, Chávez responded "elliptically," commenting that "perhaps the governments of Latin America should consider a regional effort to fight poverty that would include the Peace Corps."
Wild West Border Region
If you thought Jesse James and the Wild West was chaotic, take a look at another WikiLeaks cable from 2003 detailing the state of the Colombian-Venezuelan frontier. In the Venezuelan border state of Táchira, ranchers were concerned about the Bolivarian Liberation Forces or FBL, which they accused of conducting kidnappings. The right wing Chávez opposition claimed the FBL had ties to the Venezuelan government, a charge vehemently denied by Caracas.
So far more or less easy enough to understand, but according to the U.S. Embassy in Caracas the porous border region had become increasingly anarchic and confused, with fellow leftists turning against each other in nasty internecine battles. Specifically, leftist camaraderie had broken down between the FBL, operating on the Venezuelan side of the border, and the ELN or Colombian National Liberation Army, operating from the other side of the frontier.
U.S. diplomats spoke with a local police chief who said that "terrorist groups had previously respected each others' turf as 'leftist brothers,' but this respect is breaking down, largely the fault of the FBL's 'disregard for business.'" Local ranchers had become so befuddled by this state of affairs that they now paid extortion money to "multiple groups" but even so still got kidnapped.
Speaking to the Americans, the local Chávez opposition in Táchira claimed that Infrastructure Minister Diosdado Cabello had purchased a farm in the area which was used for training purposes. When asked to clarify, the Chávez government again vehemently denied the charges. In concluding, the U.S. ambassador declared "increasingly active and publicized, the FBL is making it difficult for government of Venezuela officials to deny its existence."