October 27, 2021

Unmasking the Venezuelan ‘narcostate’: The Case of Hugo Carvajal

Unmasking the Venezuelan ‘narcostate’: The Case of Hugo CarvajalInterAmerican Security Watch

[Ed. Note: This week, retired Venezuelan Gen. Hugo Carvajal was detained in Aruba at the request of U.S. authorities.  Carvajal was the former head of Venezuelan military intelligence (DGIM) and a close confidante of the late Hugo Chávez. In 2008, he was designated by U.S Treasury as a “drug kingpin” for his ties to the Colombian narco-terrorist FARC.  That year also, the highly respected Colombian magazine Semana published an exposé of Carvajal that reported on his criminal associations with the FARC. The following article was translated by IASW.]Hugo Carvajal: Hugo Chávez’s “Montesinos”

Semana Reveals the Scandalous Ties between Venezuelan General Hugo Carvajal, the FARC, and Drug Traffickers

There are very few people who have the luxury of having Hugo Chávez’s ear. Of that select group, one of the closest, most loyal, and who Chavez trusts the most is General Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios: the brains of Venezuelan intelligence.

The intelligence agencies of two countries with extensive experience in the field of espionage possess highly reliable information that Carvajal has provided protection and identification documents to guerrillas and drug traffickers from Colombia in Venezuelan territory, including recently murdered capo, Wilber Varela. And last, but not least, the general is in the crosshairs of these agencies for his alleged involvement in the torture and murder of two members of the Colombian Army, according to information from Bogotá.

“Carvajal has provided protection and identification documents to guerrillas and drug traffickers from Colombia in Venezuelan territory.”

The greatest paradox is that Hugo Carvajal is a virtually unknown man in Colombia, despite being the head of [Venezuela’s] Directorate General of Military Intelligence (DGIM), a military organization of the same authority as the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior and that receives instructions, responds, and is accountable only to the President of the Republic, Hugo Chávez. “Today DGIM is a seven-headed monster that has a relatively low profile, but its power is immense,” an officer of the DGIMtold Semana on condition of anonymity.

Semana spoke with four active officers in different intelligence agencies and Venezuelan security forces who explained that information began to leak indicating that General Carvajal, with his irregular actions, was garnering the animosity from sectors of the National Armed Forces of Venezuela (FAN) and other security agencies.

Witnesses say that apart from his relations with the guerrillas, Carvajal has given great importance to counterintelligence and has committed excesses ranging from unjustified witch-hunts to torture of Armed Forces members for mere suspicions of disloyalty. Many soldiers inside the Armed Forces are upset with this situation and have decided to report or provide information in exchange for rewards.

So, it is not surprising that newspapers like El País in Spain and The Washington Post have been publishing reports recently on the links between the Venezuelan Armed Forces and FARC guerrillas. Back in October of 2005, Semana revealed the relationship of two [Venezuelan] National Guard (GN) generals with the Colombian mafia. That publication led to the Vice President of the neighboring country to announce a formal investigation.

None of the revelations so far known, however, is as serious and disturbing as the information that our magazine had access to regarding General Carvajal. Semana tried unsuccessfully to get a reaction from members of the DGIM in Caracas. We also spoke with the charge d’affaires of the Embassy of Venezuela in Bogotá to get an official response from the Venezuelan government apropos these allegations; so far, this has not been possible.

Chat with ‘Grannobles

Hugo Carvajal was born on April 1960 in Puerto La Cruz, in western Venezuela. For eight years he has been affiliated with the General Directorate of Intelligence and in July 2004 he was appointed by Chávez as director of that entity. Despite his great power, he is a man with a very low profile. Known by the nickname ‘Pollo,’ because of his physical appearance, some of the activities he has been involved in speak for themselves.

An active officer of the Venezuelan National Guard, who spoke to Semana on condition of anonymity, revealed that in mid-May 2006, General Carvajal met with Germán Briceño Suárez, a.k.a ‘Grannobles,” an important FARC leader and brother of [deceased FARC second-in-command] ‘Mono Jojoy.‘ “The meeting took place at the farm called Corocito, located in San Silvestre, Barinas state. At that farm, members of the National Guard, DGIM and DISIP [National Directorate of Intelligence and Prevention Services; now known as the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, or SEBIN] were present. It was a group of about 20 people, but there were more members of the National Guard securing the perimeter. The representative for the guerrillas was Briceño (‘Grannobles’), accompanied by a small group of five to seven guerrilla members.  Afterwards, two helicopters of the Venezuelan Armed Forces arrived with 21 more guerrilla members,” said the official who claims to have been present at the meeting.

According to him, General Carvajal and Briceño spoke about political, military, and economic coordination. Carvajal had pledged to provide logistical support and food along the border. “Briceño asked Carvajal for protection from the DISIP for the group of 21 guerrillas that had just arrived and that operated in different parts of Venezuela. Briceño asked Carvajal to provide these people with identification and credentials that would accredit them as members of the DISIP or DGIM to move more easily in Venezuelan territory,” the official told Semana.

One of the guerrilla members who enjoys these privileges is Yeison Armando Escobar, a.k.a ‘Cocorinche,‘ member of the 45th front of the FARC. “In October of last year, ‘Cocorinche‘ was one of those appointed by the FARC to personally coordinate with General Carvajal security issues and logistics for [FARC leader] Ivan Marquez’s trip to Miraflores for a meeting with President Chavez,” the national guard officer told Semana, who also says that the guerrilla member possesses DISIP and DGIM credentials and a permit to carry weapons.

A commissioner of the DISIP, who spoke with Semana, also added that such official documents were provided to Didier and Yesid Ríos. “Since October 2007, they have lived in Margarita Island and have had permanent security provided by DGIM members, assigned by General Carvajal.” Known in Colombia as the ‘Clan de los Ríos,‘ Didier and Yesid are part of a family that for years worked for the commander of the 16th Front of the FARC, Tomás Medina Caracas, a.k.a “Negro Acacio,” in drug trafficking and laundering.

Didier, Yesid, and six other members of the clan fled to Venezuela in 2001 after the military offensive launched against ‘Negro Acacio’ began, which was known as Operation Black Cat. In November 2005, the [Colombian security agency] DAS and Colombian prosecutors seized the properties that the ‘Clan de los Ríos’ managed for the FARC and that are valued at 30 million pesos.

This is not the first time the name of General Carvajal has been linked to the protection and provision of official credentials from Venezuelan agencies to guerrillas and drug traffickers. Semana had access to the identity cards that were supplied to Hermágoras González, a Colombian narco-trafficker who has been designated by the United States and who for several years has taken refuge and traffics drugs in Barinas state.

The name of this Colombian narco-trafficker came to light in October of last year in a report by The Washington Post as one of the largest exporters of cocaine to North America and Europe. Hermágoras, which is a middleman for Colombian traffickers, including Varela, moves freely in Venezuela with two official identifications. One identifies him as a commissioner of the DISIP and another as an intelligence agent for the National Guard. A report by the National Guard itself, which was seen by this magazine, tells about the irregularity. “The order to supply official documents to Hermágoras González and other drug traffickers and guerrillas was given by Carvajal to Pedro Luis Martin, who was the director of intelligence for DISIP and now is one of the henchmen for Carvajal,” said the DISIP official who spoke Semana.

“There is a tape recording in the hands of foreign agencies that shows how Carvajal warned drug traffickers to avoid a major drug operation.”

As part of the evidence linking Carvajal to these crimes there is also a tape recording in the hands of foreign agencies that shows how Carvajal warned drug traffickers to avoid a major drug operation. “On September 5, 2007, an operation was going to take place in which 2,900 kilos of cocaine, which were hidden in a warehouse in the city of Puerto La Cruz and about to be exported to Europe, were about to be seized. The drugs belonged to several Colombian drug traffickers and a percentage of the cargo belonged to the 10th Front of the FARC. A call from General Carvajal was received by members of the National Guard and the DGMIN who were guarding the cargo to warn them of the impending operation. The drugs were moved and the operation was thwarted,” a member of a foreign intelligence service who was coordinating the operation told Semana.

Ordering Murders?

The name of General Carvajal has been linked to even more complex issues. In July of last year, the general was alerted by one of his trusted men in the DISIP about the collaboration between an informant for the DEA, “Rodríguez,” regarding a Venezuelan industrialist with close connections with the regime who had ties with narco traffickers. “In the U.S., a judicial proceeding was being prepared against the industrialist, which would give way to the arrest of a network of traffickers and money launderers in Colombia and Venezuela. “’Rodríguez’ was key in this investigation, so General Carvajal, immediately after being alerted, ordered his torture and assassination,” a DEA agent assigned to Venezuela told Semana. The case is known, he said, by Colonel Néstor Reverol, president of the Venezuela National Drug Office (ONA).

Although all the above facts reveal serious crimes by General Carvajal, perhaps the most serious has to do with the role that the head of the DGIM played in the torture and murder of two members of the Colombian army in Venezuela. In April of last year, Semana broke the story of the murders of Captain Camilo González and Gregorio Martínez Cape. The soldiers infiltrated Venezuela to monitor Colombian guerrillas operating in that country. They were discovered, brutally tortured, and murdered in the National Guard headquarters located in Santa Barbara, Zulia state. “Those who discovered the Colombian military officers and realized that they were doing intelligence work were police officers from Santa Barbara. General Carvajal sent a colonel from the DGIM to torture the Colombians for several days. In some of the interviews, we were told that a member of the [Colombian guerrilla group] ELN was present. After torturing them and getting the information that they needed, the Colonel called General Carvajal for orders on what to do with them. Carvajal gave the order to execute them. He did it because he knew, given that they were involved in espionage, that the government of Colombia could not protest; this was also a clear to the Colombian military of what will happen to those who are discovered in Venezuela. This story was provided to Semana by a National Guard officer who worked in the garrison where they were killed.

“Of the serious crimes by General Carvajal, perhaps the most serious has to do with the role that the head of the DGIM played in the torture and murder of two members of the Colombian army in Venezuela.”

The official said that the Colonel commissioned to torture these men was one of Carvajal’s closest men. “He [the Colonel] worked in San Cristobal in 2005 and there became a key contact between the DGIM and the Colombian guerrillas,” according to the National Guard officer. “He became more attached to the ELN than the FARC, which is probably why the ELN people referred to him as ‘Comandante Raúl.’”

General Carvajal is therefore targeted by intelligence agencies as Vladimiro Montesinos was at the time, the man who concentrated all the power of intelligence in Peru while they sold weapons to the FARC. No doubt the accusations against General Hugo Carvajal are so serious that the government of Venezuela will have to respond.