Tags: Cuba | Trump Administration | Venezuela | roger noriega | socialism | dictators | drug trafficking

Roger Noriega: Cuba Is Real Villain in Venezuela

nicolas maduro gestures with both hands while delivering a speech into a mic
Embattled Venezeluan leader Nicolas Maduro (Ariana Cubillos/AP)

By    |   Wednesday, 01 May 2019 10:06 PM

For 20 years, the Castro regime has abetted oppression and organized crime in Venezuela. Cuban agents helped build the internal security apparatus that keeps Nicolas Maduro in power. After the regime short-circuited efforts by interim president Juan Guiadó to induce a military rebellion against Maduro, on Tuesday, President Trump said the Cuban dictatorship will pay a dear price for propping up its puppet in Caracas.

Cuban agents play a singular role in neutralizing dissent in Venezuela. Cubans know the country better than U.S. diplomats do, and they study how American policymakers think and behave. So, their role in frustrating U.S. pro-democracy efforts is indispensable to Maduro.

Already this month, citing Cuba's pernicious role in Venezuela, the Trump administration unsheathed a 1996 law that allows U.S. nationals to sue companies for using their confiscated property in Cuba; U.S. officials also pledged to deny visas to officers of such companies. The administration reimposed limits on cash transfers and travel to the island that President Obama relaxed as part of his outreach to the Castro regime. The Treasury Department also began sanctioning ships carrying Venezuelan oil to Cuba.

The Castro regime's influence in Venezuela is deep and destructive. Soon after the 1959 revolution, it became clear Fidel Castro would play rough to get his hands on Venezuela's vast oil fields. Since the election of the late Hugo Chavez in 1998, Cuba has been sustained by free Venezuelan oil with an annual value of about $2 billion. Under the table, the Castro clan also has raked in billions more from corrupt contracts and narcotrafficking through Venezuela.

When Chavez succumbed to cancer under Cuban care, they micromanaged Maduro's rise to power. Cuban advisors engineered his unlawful presidential campaign and unlikely victory in 2013. Since then, Havana has imposed discipline among Maduro and rival narcopoliticians Diosdado Cabello and Tareck el-Aissami.

Cubans supervise a ruthless internal security apparatus — employing the latest Russian and Chinese technology — that ferrets out any challenge to the regime. Today, an estimated 15,000 Cubans form what Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, called an "army of occupation." They have helped mobilize, train, and arm a crude but large militia, marauding gangsters known as "colectivos," and a repressive unit of the national police. Along with the national guard, these murky forces do most of the dirty work in crushing pro-democracy demonstrations.

This order of battle is critical because, as Chavista veterans have told me, 80 percent of the rank-and-file of the 130,000-man regular army would not lift a finger to defend Maduro. Under the right leadership, this force might be mobilized to topple the regime. However, the Cubans have that covered. For the better part of two decades, they have helped train and monitor Venezuela's military officer corps for ideological loyalty. Those whose loyalty is questioned face dismissal and punishment.

So, every Venezuelan general today — including Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino López — marches in lockstep with the regime and shares millions in profits from military-owned businesses and narcotrafficking operated with Cuban help. Venezuelan generals manage the infamous Cartel of the Suns (named after the starburst insignia denoting their rank), which moves an estimated 40 metric tons of cocaine through their territory to the United States. They also aid and abet drug smuggling by Cuban General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez Callejas, Raul Castro's ex-son-in-law, through the port of La Guaira bound for Europe, according to an active-duty Venezuelan military officer.

As a hedge against a U.S.-backed military rebellion, earlier this year, Cuban plotters dangled a mock defector, notorious narcogeneral Hugo Carvajal, who faces U.S. drug charges. According to insiders, Carvajal's public defection was a trap set by regime kingpins. This corrupt cabal hoped to dupe Washington into settling for a phony transition — perhaps even Maduro's removal — that protects their power and fortunes. This plan was scuttled in mid-April when Carvajal was arrested in Spain; he now awaits extradition to the United States to face U.S. justice.

Cuba has Venezuela's narcogenerals on a very short leash. Guaidó and his U.S. supporters have learned it is a mistake to expect narcos to turn on their masters and surrender power voluntarily. Instead, friends of Venezuelan democracy should mobilize patriotic citizens to fight for their own freedom. That is a tough and complicated task. However, the reward for trying might be a free, oil-rich ally in Venezuela that has a score to settle with the thugs in Havana.

Roger Noriega was U.S. Ambassador to the OAS and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs from 2001-05. He is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and his firm Visión Américas LLC represents U.S. and foreign clients.

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Cuban agents' role in frustrating U.S. pro-democracy efforts is indispensable to Nicolas Maduro, Roger F. Noriega writes for Newsmax.
roger noriega, socialism, dictators, drug trafficking
Wednesday, 01 May 2019 10:06 PM
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