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Venezuelan Legislature to Investigate Socialist Gov’t Ties to Drug Trafficking

The recently sworn-in opposition legislature of Venezuela will investigate a number of government enterprises for links to drug trafficking operations, the head of the National Assembly’s Oversight Commission confirmed Monday.

Ismael García, the head of the commission, confirmed that the committee would exercise its constitutional power over a number of government agencies opposition members believe are responsible for a number of economic and political crises in the nation. The national agencies responsible for distributing foodstuffs (PDVAL) and the agency governing the sale of food will both come under scrutiny for having potentially played a role in the severe shortages that have ravaged the nation, creating supermarket lines that take 5-6 hours to clear.

Legislators will also investigate the agency responsible for the nation’s fuel market, Venezuela Petroleum (PDVSA). García suggested the potential finding of “irregular facts” regarding the running of PDVSA, some that could potentially uncover ties to drug trafficking.

In particular, the legislature appears to be most interested in finding more information about the notorious Cartel de los Soles, one of Latin America’s largest cocaine trafficking operations. The cartel is named for the sun medallions that Venezuelan soldiers wear on their lapels, and it has been repeatedly linked to high-ranking military officials in the country.

“The best way to help our armed forces, to give them moral support, is to find the truth about the Cartel de los Soles,” legislator Julio Montoya told the Diario de las Américas. “This begins with a serious conversation in the Parliament. We cannot explain how there are youths being found with drugs abroad that have diplomatic passports,” he added.

The “youths being found with drugs abroad” example may be an allusion to Efraín Antonio Campo Flores, 29, and Francisco Flores de Freitas, 30, the nephews of President Nicolás Maduro. Campos Flores and Flores de Freitas were arrested in the Caribbean en route to New York, and are currently being tried in the Southern District of New York for attempting to smuggle 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States.

Upon being interrogated, the two men — one of whom claims to have been raised by First Lady Cilia Flores — claimed the cocaine in question belonged to Diosdado Cabello, then the head of the Venezuelan National Assembly and nation’s second in line of succession. Cabello lost his post in the aftermath of the December 6 election, when the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) party took over the legislature for the first time in 17 years.

Cabello is widely rumored to be the head of the Cartel de los Soles. Leamsy Salazar, a former security chief for late dictator Hugo Chávez, has most prominently accused Cabello of taking part in running the cartel. Upon defecting to the United States in January 2015, Salazar assured Southern District prosecutors he would testify against Cabello should they build a case sufficiently sound to go to court. It is unclear whether he would testify in the Flores nephews case.

“The DEA committed the crime of kidnapping which, in any case, the defense is tasked with proving,” First Lady and legislator Cilia Flores told the national news outlet Tal Cual last week, her first and only comment on the matter.

Since demanding an investigation into potential ties between the government and drug trafficking operations, legislator Julio Montoya has alleged that unknown entities have threatened him and his family. “Two hours after exercising my right to speak on the National Assembly floor last Wednesday, the physical and judicial persecution against my family began,” Montoya said last week. “Today we denounce this, but we remain firm in our commitment to investigating these cases.” The judicial persecution, he alleged, was the elimination of health benefits to his wife, who has remained hospitalized for three years with an illness Montoya did not identify.

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