Venezuela: Socialist Elite Purge Rocks Maduro’s Inner Circle

Tareck El Aissami
YURI CORTEZ/AFP via Getty Images

CARACAS, Venezuela — The sudden resignation this week of Tareck El Aissami, one of the most powerful people in the Venezuelan socialist regime, has shaken the core of dictator Nicolás Maduro’s inner circle.

Maduro and his regime have framed the arrest of an undisclosed number of chavista officials that began over the past weekend as part of an “anti-corruption” purge, a surprising move given Venezuela’s status as the most corrupt country in the region. Many, including defectors from the regime, are rejecting this official explanation however, suggesting Maduro and his closest allies are eliminating anyone from within who could potentially challenge Maduro for leadership.

Maduro claimed in remarks this week to be personally leading the “anti-corruption” purge and described it as “professional, scientific, balanced, [and] step-by-step.” During a nationally televised broadcast, the dictator said the investigation’s aim was to break up “entrenched mafias” in the state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) oil company and his socialist regime as a whole.

The purge began last weekend with the arrest of Joselit Ramírez Camacho, who served as the head of the socialist regime’s cryptocurrency watchdog agency SUNACRIP. Ramírez Camacho is accused of being involved in the disappearance of $3 billion in oil revenue from Venezuela’s state coffers.

The missing $3 billion in oil revenue, traded through the regime’s scam Petro cryptocurrency, is a huge blow to the cash-starved PDVSA, which has been brought to near-ruin after years of socialist mismanagement. Recent reports indicate that over the past three years, PDVSA has been left with an accumulated $21.2 billion in accounts receivable — representing about 84 percent of the total value of invoice shipments —  by dozens of little-known intermediaries. The socialist regime employed the use of intermediaries to evade oil sanctions.

Ramírez Camacho is long considered to be the right-hand man of now-former Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami, who resigned on Monday to “support” the regime’s corruption probe on PDVSA.

The Maduro regime has not publicly disclosed the exact number and names of the detainees, and, as characteristic of the socialist regime, there is a total lack of public information regarding the arrests, all of which have been carried out by the regime’s National Anti-Corruption Police, created in 2014 by Nicolás Maduro.

While Jorge Rodríguez, the head of the National Assembly, announced on Tuesday that 19 officials have been arrested for their alleged participation in the embezzlement of PDVSA’s funds, the vice president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and alleged drug lord Diosdado Cabello claimed on Monday that the number of detainees accused of corruption ranges in the “hundreds.”

Among the confirmed arrests are people belonging to Tareck El Aissami’s inner circle, including lawmakers, judges, and his front man. Some of the detained El Aissami associates belonged to a group called Utopia 78, a college group founded during El Aissami’s years in Los Andes University, where he studied law and criminology.

Andrés Izarra, journalist and minister of the socialist regime currently living in Germany, claimed in an interview given to the Argentine news outlet Infobae on Tuesday that the reason behind Maduro’s “anti-corruption” purge is because the socialist dictator had allegedly “found out” about El Aissami’s alleged plans to contest his power, describing the events as a “war between mafias.”

“Tareck El Aissami, who was the minister of oil until now that he has just resigned, was a very powerful person within the structure of Madurismo,” Izarra said. “He was not only president of PDVSA, which gave him a lot of access to the main resources of the country, but he also controlled an important political structure. He had several governors who belonged to his team, ministers — that is to say, he controlled power within the executive, economic power, intelligence services, armed forces.”

In 2018, during the worst years of Venezuela’s socialist collapse, Joseph Humire, a specialist on Iran and Hezbollah activities in Latin America, told Breitbart News Daily that El Aissami — who at the time was Maduro’s vice president — was the one “calling the shots” in the country. In 2017, reports indicated that Hezbollah, along with some in the Arabic community in Venezuela, were pushing for El Aissami to replace Maduro as president of Venezuela.

In the Infobae interview, Izarra claimed that El Aissami’s resignation is “just the beginning” of the PSUV’s inner battle, noting that the former oil minister “knows a lot” about the socialist regime and holds important relations with “Russians, Turks, Syrians, and Hezbollah.”

“This is just beginning. The regime can stop him; but I don’t know if that would be convenient for Madurismo, maybe it would be shooting itself in the foot,” Izarra said. “Tareck can counterattack and reveal things he knows, because he knows a lot.”

After defecting from the Maduro regime, Izzarra was accused in 2018 of having embezzled funds from the left-wing television network Telesur and accused of corruption involving the Chinese-built Simón Bolívar satellite.

El Aissami’s resignation, along with the arrest of his closest allies, effectively removes the PSUV faction he leads from the structure of the party.

Founded in 2007 by Hugo Chávez, the ruling PSUV party was created by merging Chávez’s Fifth Republic Movement party with several other smaller Venezuelan leftist political parties. Historically, PSUV has had several factions within its structure, but with four main powerful ones standing above the rest, one of which El Aissami led.

The first and most powerful group within the PSUV was given the nickname “La Cúpula” (the dome) by Venezuelan analyst Marcos Tarre Briceño and is composed by Maduro, his wife Cilia Flores – the “first combatant” of the revolution, a fabricated title to elevate her above the “capitalistic” title of first lady – and siblings Jorge and Delcy Rodrīguez. This civilian faction represents the more “ideological” and radical leftist wing of the socialist party — and the ones with the closest ties to the communist Castro regime in Cuba.

All four have held different high-ranking positions within the executive and legislative branches of the Venezuelan government during the more than two decades of socialist rule, including Maduro prior to becoming Venezuela’s president in 2013 after the death of Hugo Chávez.

Their far-left ideology is something the quartet is not ashamed of — for instance, Delcy Rodriguez, who is currently Maduro’s vice president, publicly admitted in the past that the socialist revolution is the siblings’ “vengeance for the death of our father and his executioners.”

Rodríguez referred to her father, Jorge Antonio Rodríguez, who in life was a radical leftist and founder of Venezuela’s Socialist League political party, which was assimilated into PSUV in 2007. Jorge Antonio Rodríguez is best known for his participation in the kidnapping of American businessman William Niehous in 1976 — the longest kidnapping incident in Venezuelan history. Rodríguez was captured by Venezuelan police forces in July 1976, dying two days later. Police authorities ruled his death a heart attack.

The other powerful faction is the military wing, led by Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López and other members of the Bolivarian Armed Forces. The armed forces, having declared themselves “anti-imperialist” and “profoundly chavista,” have been instrumental in keeping Maduro in power over the past ten years. Padrino López, who controls the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM), announced on Tuesday that some members of the Venezuelan military are involved in the PDVSA-related corruption and embezzlement.

Maduro, alongside Padrino López, El Aissami, and Diosdado Cabello, are believed to be leading figures of a drug-trafficking organization of high-ranking Venezuelan officials known as the Cartel de los Soles (Cartel of the Suns). 

Cabello and his family constitute another power-vying socialist faction. Cabello, a socialist party strongman, is often considered the most powerful man in the country, more “pragmatic” than Maduro and less ideologically aligned with Cuba.

Shortly after the death of Hugo Chávez in March 2013, Cabello publicly confessed that he was the “containment wall” that stopped the revolution’s “crazy ideas.”

Cabello, who is the PSUV’s vice president, was a close ally of Hugo Chávez, having participated in Chávez’s failed February 1992 coup d’état against then President Carlos Andrés Pérez. He was also instrumental in the late socialist dictator’s return to power following the brief coup d’état against Chávez in April 2002.

The United Nations’ Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela determined in 2020 that Cabello is in control of the regime’s Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN). Both SEBIN and DGCIM have been accused of carrying out crimes against humanity against dissidents, including extreme acts of torture, sexual violence, and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatments.

Venezuelan journalist Ibéyise Pacheco stated via Twitter on Monday that, according to unnamed sources from the Venezuelan presidential Palace, Maduro’s “anti-corruption” crackdown and the arrest of El Aissami’s allies and financial arm followed ongoing tensions between El Aissami and siblings Jorge and Delcy Rodríguez, which “broke out this week when they started screaming at each other in front of witnesses.” 

“At the moment the fight is won by the Rodríguezes, attributing power of influence with the United States,” Pacheco wrote on Monday. Jorge Rodríguez was appointed by Maduro to lead the negotiations between the socialist regime and the Venezuelan “opposition” promoted by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Pacheco speculated that soldiers loyal to El Aissami may pledge to Padrino López, while his businesses may be taken over by Diosdado Cabello and Maduro and his family.

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela issued a public statement on Saturday backing Maduro’s “anti-corruption” purge. The PSUV statement begins with quotes by Maduro and Cabello regarding the “fight against corruption,” in which the socialist dictator is given the titles of “Commander-President” a title used by Chávez in the past; “Driver of Victories,” a title the regime uses to refer to Maduro’s past as a bus driver; and “President Maker of the Dream and Yearnings of All the People.” Similarly, Diodado Cabello is given the title of “Defender of the Homeland Against Anyone, Anywhere, Anyhow.”

Reports published on Tuesday morning indicated that the military wing led by Vladimir Padrino López aspired to designate a member of the military as Venezuela’s new oil minister. On Tuesday evening, Maduro designated Colonel Pedro Rafael Tellechea as Venezuela’s new oil minister.

Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.


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