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U.S. judge sentences alleged top member of Venezuela’s Soles cartel to more than 20 years

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (center) leaves the headquarters of the National Electoral Council (CNE) with first lady Cilia Flores (right) after formalizing his candidacy before the Venezuelan electoral authority in Caracas on March 25, 2024. (Federico Parra/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

A former Venezuelan general, Cliver Alcalá Cordones, was sentenced on Monday to 21 years and eight months in federal prison after pleading guilty in the United States to having supplied weapons and protection to Colombian guerrillas.

Alcalá Cordones, who admitted publicly to having conspired to overthrow Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, received the long sentence despite agreeing with prosecutors to plead guilty to helping members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — known by its Spanish initials, FARC — in exchange for favorable treatment.

Despite the deal, prosecutors asked the judge to impose a 30-year sentence, arguing that Alcalá Cordones was one of the top leaders of the drug trafficking organization, the Cartel de los Soles, controlled by the Venezuelan military and top leaders of Maduro’s socialist regime.

Evidence provided before sentencing showed the former general benefited financially from playing an active role in drug trafficking, receiving at times $150,000 per shipment. Alcalá Cordones denied having any direct involvement in the illegal drug trade.

“As a high-ranking member of the Venezuelan military and the Cartel de Los Soles, Clíver Antonio Alcalá Cordones and his co-conspirators sought to weaponize cocaine as they helped the FARC arm its members and ship tons of drugs to the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams of the Southern District of New York.

“Alcalá Cordones corrupted the vital institutions of his own country as he helped the FARC flood this country with cocaine — but no longer. Instead, he will now spend more than two decades in a United States prison,” Williams said in a press release.

According to U.S. officials, Alcalá Cordones and other high-ranking Venezuelan officials served as leaders and administrators of the Soles cartel, using their power and influence within the country’s security apparatus to consolidate control of the drug trade inside the South American country.

The country’s courts and intelligence agencies were used to facilitate the shipment of tons of cocaine to the United States in partnership with the FARC, a guerrilla organization dedicated to the violent overthrow of the Colombian government, the prosecutor’s office said.

“The Cartel de Los Soles sought not only to enrich its members and enhance their power but also to weaponize cocaine by inflicting the drug’s harmful and addictive effects on users in the United States,” the Justice Department said in press statement.

The Justice Department said Alcalá’s involvement in the drug trade was tracked back to the beginning of 2006, when he took advantage of his role in the Venezuelan military to support the FARC as they shipped tons of drugs to the United States.

Among other things, Alcalá Cordones protected FARC members from being arrested by Venezuelan law enforcement or from being confronted by the Venezuelan military. Those protected by the former general include top guerrilla leaders Luciano Marín Arango and Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri.

In addition, Alcalá Cordones participated in meetings with some of the largest drug traffickers in South America, during which they discussed how he and other members of the cartel could assist them in cocaine distribution.

Alcalá Cordones also personally intervened to ensure that law enforcement in Venezuela did not intercept large cocaine shipments. In exchange, Alcalá Cordones received millions of dollars in cocaine-fueled bribes, the press release said.


© 2024 Miami Herald

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