Diosdado Cabello, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly and the nation’s second-in-command, has accused the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of “kidnapping” two nephews of President Nicolás Maduro following their arrest this month for allegedly attempting to traffic 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States.
“I don’t see it as an arrest. The truth is that a plane went to Haiti with six people, and two people were kidnapped,” Cabello said on a television program Monday evening. Cabello appeared on Globovision, a network formally home to anti-Chavista opposition that turned into a state propaganda outfit by force in 2012.
Cabello accused the DEA of attempting to sway the Venezuelan vote against the socialist party in the upcoming parliamentary elections on December 6. He also accused to DEA of itself being “the biggest drug traffickers in the world” and, once again, threatened to sue journalists in Spain and the United States who had published accusations by former senior Chavistas that Cabello himself is deeply involved in drug trafficking.
Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas, 30, and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, 29, were arrested earlier this month after allegedly attempting to sell 800 kilos of cocaine to a DEA informant in Haiti. They had, according to the indictment against them in the Southern District of New York, intended to traffic the drugs out of Venezuela and into New York City through the Caribbean. They physically showed the drugs to the DEA informant, the United States government claims. They have appeared in court and will do so again on November 18 to plead not guilty.
Both are nephews of President Nicolás Maduro through his wife, Cilia Flores, who is currently running for a legislative seat in the upcoming elections. One identified himself as Maduro’s “stepson,” claiming Flores had raised him after his mother died.
“The procedure was illegal,” Cabello said of their arrests. “There were six people and they only arrested two, what the DEA has done is very irregular.” He added that “it is the normal procedure of the DEA to kidnap many in many areas” and that the DEA “might be the biggest drug traffickers in the world, I don’t have any doubts.” He accused the United States government of seeking to “harm the Revolution” by arresting the suspects so close to the election, and proclaimed that “Venezuela neither produces nor consumes drugs.”
In an odd turn, however, Cabello denied the familial relationship between the men and the president, claiming that “it is a lie” that one of them had been raised by Flores. In the event that the accusations were true, he added, “these are grown men who can do what they want in life… it’s impossible you or I track everything our nephews are up to.”
Cabello is the highest ranking official in the Venezuelan government so far to issue an official comment on the situation. Prior to his statements, several representatives of Venezuela’s socialist government appeared on state TV discussing the situation, with one denying that the men had been arrested at all, calling such reports “unconfirmed” despite the two having already appeared in court in New York. Maduro has only hinted at the situation, warning on his Twitter account of a recent “imperialist ambush.”
Maduro has never been accused of actively engaging in drug trafficking, though defecting senior Chavistas have claimed that he funded his previous presidential campaign with cocaine money. It is Cabello for whom the U.S. government allegedly has collected significant evidence of being a senior drug trafficker in Latin America. A former bodyguard of late dictator Hugo Chávez who defected to the United States claims to have witnessed Cabello running the Cartel de los Soles, one of Latin America’s biggest cocaine smuggling operations.
Cabello has denied the charges and vowed to sue media publishing the accusations, including the Wall Street Journal in the United States.