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Venezuela’s #2 Threatens US Media with Lawsuit for Outing Him as Cocaine Kingpin

The president of Venezuela’s National Assembly–the Venezuelan government’s second-in-command–has announced he will seek to take legal action in the United States and Spain against media outlets that have published reports alleging that he is being investigated for running a cocaine trafficking organization.

Diosdado Cabello announced on state television that he would follow up defamation lawsuits against three Venezuelan outlets for publishing the claims, made by the former head of security to late dictator Hugo Chávez, that Cabello is the head of the Cartel de los Soles, a cocaine operation. “I have sued here in Venezuela, but I will also sue in Spain, and I will sue in the United States,” he said.

He went on to argue that “it can’t be possible that the media can do this” in nations like Spain and the United States, “where they claim to have freedom of expression.” Three Venezuelan outlets–El Nacional, Tal Cual and La Patilla–are facing legal action on Cabello’s behalf. While he did mention the Spanish newspaper ABC, which broke the allegations, as a target, he did not mention any American newspapers that had republished them, including The New York Times and The Wall Street JournalThe Guardian notes that neither newspaper has commented on the threat.

Despite being the second-highest-ranking official in Venezuela, Cabello escaped U.S. sanctions issued earlier this year in response to human rights violations by the socialist government. This would theoretically allow him to come to the United States and file a civil suit against these newspapers.

Leamsy Salazar, Chávez’s former bodyguard, defected to the United States earlier this year. Since arriving on U.S. soil, he has been telling media outlets that he had personal knowledge of Cabello’s leadership of the Cartel de los Soles, which ships cocaine all throughout Latin America. The cartel is so-named because of the sun medallions that Venezuelan soldiers wear, a way of indicating that its members and leadership, like Cabello himself, all belong to the nation’s military.

In an interview last week, Cabello called Salazar a “dry coconut–he’s got nothing” and claimed he is speaking out in hopes of more payments from the American government.

A former Venezuelan assistant secretary of state who also defected to the United States told media that, while President Nicolás Maduro himself is not involved in the drug trade, he is aware of it and used money Cabello generated from selling cocaine to fund his last presidential election. The Wall Street Journal has also reported that American officials are not just listening to Salazar’s claims, but actively building a case against Cabello.

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