Venezuela’s Top U.S.-Sanctioned Drug Lord Visits North Korea

Cancillería Venezuela
Cancillería Venezuela

Diosdado Cabello, the head of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and U.S.-sanctioned cocaine trafficker, arrived in North Korea on Tuesday seeking to strengthen what North Korean propaganda referred to as the “militant friendship” between the two dictatorships.

While identified as the head of the Cartel de los Soles, a multi-continental cocaine trafficking syndicate run out of the Venezuelan military, Cabello is in Pyongyang in the capacity of an envoy for dictator Nicolás Maduro, who has not been the lawful head of state of Venezuela since January. Cabello is widely considered the second most powerful man in Venezuela and, through the years, has been the subject of speculation that those closest to Maduro are planning to overthrow him. Cabello has yet to make any public acts in defiance of Maduro, however.

Cabello is also the host of a television show on Venezuelan state television, which he uses to denigrate pro-democracy dissidents and the United States.

Cabello is making his journey as most of the world’s heads of state convene in New York for the general debate of the United Nations General Assembly. Despite not being legally Venezuela’s president, the U.N. invited Maduro to attend, but he declined.

Dictator Kim Jong-un will also be among the few world leaders not to attend the General Assembly.

Venezuela’s foreign ministry posted images of Cabello landing in North Korea on Tuesday for what it called a “high-level visit.”

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Pyongyang’s state propaganda outlet, reported that Cabello and his team spent part of the day worshipping at the statues of Kim’s father and grandfather, the dictators Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-il, before the current communist tyrant hosted a “reception” to honor Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Revolution.” Cabello and his team also held talks with “Pak Thae Song, chairman of the DPRK [North Korea] Supreme People’s Assembly,” his counterpart in North Korea’s puppet legislature.

“Addressing the event [the reception], Pak Thae Song said that the Party, government, and people of Venezuela are achieving successes in the struggle for the victorious advance of the Bolivarian revolution, foiling the sanctions and sabotages by hostile forces,” KCNA reported. “He expressed belief that the militant friendship and fraternal ties forged between the two countries on the road of anti-imperialist independence would invariably grow stronger.”

KCNA did not offer any details on what Cabello was discussing with the North Koreans or what policies they agreed to advance together. Lisandro Solórzano, a member of the PSUV, hinted at Cabello’s meeting being necessary to “strengthen cooperative ties in various strategic areas” on Twitter.

Maduro typically uses Cabello to intimidate and silence enemies, not as an envoy. Cabello most recently stood atop a reported purge of the PSUV after Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó announced in May that he had convinced senior Maduro henchmen to defect. While Guaidó’s attempt to acquire his constitutional powers failed, Maduro reportedly ordered Cabello to sweep any suspected traitors out of the party.

Cabello appears to be in North Korea as a substitute because top diplomat, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, is in New York currently with Vice President Delcy Rodríguez for the U.N. General Assembly. Maduro himself landed in Moscow on Tuesday to ask Russia for more money to prop up his failed state.

Defecting senior members of both Maduro’s regime and the previous Hugo Chávez have accused Cabello of being the head of an international cocaine trafficking scheme. Leamsy Salazar, Chávez’s former security chief, said in 2015 that he personally witnessed Cabello order shipments of “tons of cocaine” throughout the Western Hemisphere. The Wall Street Journal published multiple reports detailing Cabello’s activities as a drug lord and later won a lawsuit against Cabello when the latter sued for defamation, on the grounds of the reports not being proven false.

In May, the U.S. Treasury Department branded Cabello a specially designated person, limiting his potential economic activities in the United States, over his engagement in drug trafficking.

“The Venezuelan people suffer under corrupt politicians who tighten their grip on power while lining their own pockets.  We are imposing costs on figures like Diosdado Cabello who exploit their official positions to engage in narcotics trafficking, money laundering, embezzlement of state funds, and other corrupt activities,” Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said at the time.  “This Administration is committed to holding those accountable who violate the trust of the Venezuelan people, and we will continue to block attempts to abuse the U.S. financial system.”

North Korea and Venezuela have been close allies since the Chávez era. The head of North Korea’s puppet legislature, Kim Yong Nam, visited Caracas most recently in November, signing several diplomatic agreements alongside Cabello. North Korea has used its state propaganda outlets to repeatedly denounce America as “sinister” and “reckless” for condemning Maduro’s long list of human rights atrocities against his people. North Korean officials have also visited Venezuela to offer “financial advice” to the starving nation, despite North Korea’s lamentable economic state.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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