Cartel de Los Soles-Sinaloa Cartel: the criminal alliance of Nicolás Maduro


The Los Soles cartel is a reality. It is made up of high-ranking military personnel from Venezuela who, for years, have been involved in drug trafficking to the United States.

It was born during the government of Hugo Chavez and still prevails. It is called El Cártel de Los Soles, made up, for the most part, of Venezuelan government officials, currently persecuted throughout the world by the United States government, where they are accused of drug trafficking, terrorism, and other crimes of Organized Crime. This criminal group is associated with the Sinaloa Cartel and periodically moves up to 250 tons of cocaine by sea and air. According to the DEA, the shipments leave Colombia, go to Venezuela, and from there to Honduras, where the Sinaloans introduce it into Mexican territory. Another route used by them is the Mexican Caribbean, where they operate through aircraft that cross the airspace without major problems. There are arrest warrants against the members of the Los Soles cartel, including Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Now that the war in Ukraine has cut off the supply of Russian oil, the United States has approached Venezuela to negotiate the sale of hydrocarbons to Europe. Maduro made it a condition that the charges against him and his entourage be withdrawn. The United States does not seem reluctant to give in in exchange for the big business that selling energy to Europe means.

Now that the conflict has worsened due to the war between Russia and Ukraine, the countries of Europe are in urgent need of gas and oil, which is not Russian, and they see the need to look for it in other countries such as Algeria, Bulgaria or even in South Africa.

But the United States has proposed selling to Europe the fuel that Russia no longer provides and, for this, the tenant of the White House has approached Venezuela, the country that has the largest hydrocarbon reserves.

But there is a barrier that must be overcome: the criminal investigations that President Nicolás Maduro and his entourage face in the United States for drug trafficking, money laundering, and other crimes related to organized crime, for which they have had international arrest warrants since the government of Donald Trump.

The extreme urgency and the imperative need for oil and gas for Europe – a business that the United States wants to capitalize on – has led a North American delegation to meet, a few weeks ago, with Maduro and the Venezuelan government cabinet to present these needs and their solutions. . Maduro agreed, not without asking that the charges he faces in the United States be dropped.

This geostrategic game has many edges: Venezuela is a country allied with Russia and has expressed its open support for the war that Russian President Vladimir Putin unleashed on Ukraine.

The United States, which feels like the owner of Latin America, approached Venezuela to negotiate the supply of oil, gas, and other fuels and does not seem reluctant to give in to Maduro’s request in exchange for consolidating a big business: supplying Europe with resources you need in this emergency situation caused by war.

Is it possible for the United States to forget about the criminal charges against Maduro and a group of soldiers that make up the so-called Los Soles cartel? Will President Biden shelve the file in exchange for Venezuela supplying him with energy resources? In the United States, everything is possible if the business is juicy for North Americans, as this one of feeding Europe with fuel seems to be.

The Los Soles cartel is a reality. It is made up of high-ranking military personnel from Venezuela who, for years, have been involved in drug trafficking to the United States. In that country, there are voluminous files in this regard that even implicate the Venezuelan President himself, Nicolás Maduro.

Cártel de Los Soles-Sinaloa: la alianza criminal de Nicolás Maduro -  SinEmbargo MX

But, what is the Los Soles cartel? How does it operate and who makes it up?

Venezuela: the drug business

Through Venezuela, Colombian capos found facilities and vast impunity to move their drug shipments to the rest of the continent, to then introduce them to the United States. Hundreds of aircraft took off from any point in Venezuela and landed in Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico – via the state of Quintana Roo – without major complications. This moment of splendor was experienced in the Hugo Chávez regime and now continues with Nicolás Maduro, who from power operates the drug trafficking business through the Los Soles cartel, according to US investigations.

After the fall of the Colombian cartels of Cali and Medellin, the most powerful until the mid-1990s, a new generation of drug traffickers emerged, thriving, in Colombia, who use Venezuelan territory to traffic their illegal merchandise.

However, Nicolás Maduro’s regime consolidated the so-called Cartel de Los Soles, made up mostly of civilians and soldiers who are (or were) part of the government of that country and who are now being investigated and persecuted, along with President Maduro, by the United States government.

The US government, then represented by Donald Trump, accused Nicolás Maduro and his collaborators of drug trafficking, organized crime, and terrorism, for which he issued an international arrest warrant and, on several occasions, former President Donald Trump threatened to invade Venezuela to execute the capture of the accused. This forced Maduro to protect his borders with large military battalions.

The Los Soles cartel has a history: it responds to the gold stars that the generals of the Bolivarian National Guard wear on their epaulets. The term was first used in 1993 when two generals – anti-narcotics chief Ramón Guillén Dávila and his successor Orlando Hernández Villegas – were investigated for drug trafficking.

That name is currently used to describe all Venezuelan government officials involved in drug trafficking. During the last few years, the international agency “InSingth Crime” has collected information on high-ranking officials – active and retired – who have been linked to cocaine trafficking. In total, these cases are registered in 123 files.

Some of the officials of the Nicolás Maduro regime involved in drug trafficking are Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios. He was a deputy of the National Assembly of the State of Monagas since 2015.

Another is Henry de Jesús Rangel Silva, who was Minister of Defense and head of the Strategic Operational Command of the Venezuelan Armed Forces in 2012.

Another is Ramón Emilio Rodríguez Chacín, who was governor of the state of Guarico between 2012 and 2017; Cliver Antonio Alcalá Cordones, who was commander of the Fourth Armored Division of Maracay and head of the integral defense zone of Aragua, in 2010.

Added to the list of those investigated for drug trafficking is Fredy Alirio Bernal Rosales, who was Minister of Urban Agriculture, head of the Local Supply and Production Committees and General Commissioner of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service since 2017. He also held the position of State Protector Tachira in 2018.

They are not all: The United States government is also investigating Néstor Luis Riverol Torres: he was minister of the interior, justice and peace in 2012, a position he repeated in 2016 and, later, he served between 2008 and 2010 as head of the National Anti-Drug Office.

After the US government made public the extensive list of Venezuelan officials linked to drug trafficking and terrorism, Nicolás Maduro did not remove anyone from their positions, on the contrary, he has promoted them to the highest levels of the government structure.

The extensive list includes a piece that has been considered key in the drug trafficking business scheme for the Nicolás Maduro regime. His name: Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Constituent Assembly and deputy for the state of Managas.

Sources from the United States Department of Justice have a criminal file that paints Cabello in full: The report maintains that the Venezuelan official is linked to drug trafficking and other illegal activities. He has open files in the United States, and although he is considered a skillful man, he knows how to protect himself – the file says – and keep his distance from dirty work.

In May 2015, The Wall Street Journal revealed that Cabello was being investigated for drug trafficking and, in addition, the leadership of the Los Soles cartel was attributed to him. The newspaper cited Leasmy Salazar as a source, who worked as Cabello’s security chief, who testified that the official has an important role in the passage of narcotics through Venezuela.

This publication infuriated the Venezuelan vice president, who immediately sued the American newspaper for defamation, but his claim was rejected by a US court. The article also mentioned that his brother – José David Cabello – is related to drug trafficking.

The second most important man in the Venezuelan government –Tareck El Aissami, who served as vice president, has also been accused of illegal activities, including drug trafficking. Before becoming vice president, he served as governor of the state of Aragua.

In the network that makes up the so-called Los Soles cartel, General Néstor Riverol, who was Minister of Internal Affairs and Commander of the Bolivarian National Guard, is also mentioned.

The statement of charges against him maintains that, from political power, he alerted drug traffickers about operations that were going to be implemented against them; In addition, he obstructed investigations, released arrested drug traffickers, and ensured that confiscated drug shipments were returned to traffickers.

But the list of high-ranking Venezuelan politicians does not end there. Cilia Flores, the wife of President Nicolás Maduro, has been implicated in the crime of drug trafficking by association, according to US investigations.

He is related to a network, made up of his nephews, who were captured in the United States and accused of drug trafficking, in addition, his son -Walter Jacob Gavidia- a judge of the Caracas metropolitan area, has investigations against him.

Maduro’s wife was linked to the case of Yasenky Antonio Lomas Rendón, a Venezuelan pilot extradited from Colombia to the United States to answer for drug charges. This character was accused of participating in more than a hundred drug flights in the last decade. The planes were taking off from the community of Apure to the Caribbean full of cocaine, according to the investigations.

Venezuela, a key country in drug trafficking

The structure of drug trafficking in Venezuela is not made up of cartels, but rather a series of networks – often antagonistic – that began in the Hugo Chávez regime, with links that go back almost two decades and that continue in the government of Nicolás Ripe.

Venezuela has always played a key role in drug trafficking, given its geographical location, especially its proximity to Colombia, the world’s leading producer of cocaine.

In the beginning, it was the Colombian drug traffickers who ran the business in Venezuela. They paid Army officers, located on the border, to ignore the passage of drugs. Then the corruption worsened. Instead of looking the other way, the Colombian mobsters asked members of the Bolivarian National Guard to protect and even transport cargo. His function of guarding the borders, ports and airports made him allied with his partners, the drug traffickers.

Later, the alliance between the Los Soles cartel and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) emerged, a company that was decisive in the development of drug trafficking in Venezuela. In 2017, the peace agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government was signed, forcing the former to move, but many dissidents remained in Venezuela who are still linked to the drug trafficking business.

According to DEA reports, the Los Soles cartel has had an alliance with the Sinaloa cartel since the late 1990s, which was strengthened at the beginning of this decade, after the 2001 escape of Joaquín Guzmán Loera from prison. of Big Bridge.

This data was also confirmed by Mike Vigil, former director of International Operations of the DEA: he said that “El Chapo” came into contact with the criminal organization at the time linked to Chavismo, thanks to the fact that the Colombian cartels and the FARC operate the cocaine trafficking safely.

According to Vigil, the Los Soles and Sinaloa cartels moved between 200 and 250 tons of Colombian cocaine destined for the United States, the most buoyant consumer market in the world.

El cártel de Sinaloa y el de los Soles, al que ligan a Nicolás Maduro,  trafican droga a EEUU desde hace 20 años: Mike Vigil - Infobae

The business -said Vigil- grew because they found a safe route: from Colombia the drug reaches the border with Venezuela, from there it goes to Honduras and in this country, it is delivered to the Sinaloa cartel, which is in charge of taking it to its destination. end: United States, through Mexico.

During the trial of “El Chapo” in New York, his links with a Dominican character named Antonio “Toño” came to light, who was recommended by the Colombian capo Alex Cifuentes Villa.

Guzmán Loera asked the Dominican to obtain land in a country on the continent to build “a hairline.” He was referring to a landing strip that would allow drug shipments to be moved to Mexico.

The link with the Los Soles cartel has allowed the Sinaloa cartel to move large tons of cocaine to Mexico through the so-called Caribbean route, one of the most exploited and aided by organized crime, where about ten packed drug flights arrive monthly. of cocaine. It is stated that Rafael Caro Quintero, who has operators throughout the Mexican Caribbean, is involved in this business network.

The Mexican authorities are aware of this network of drug businesses but rarely intervene. The Navy and the Army have intervened in some cases of landings of planes with cocaine, but except in sporadic cases, in most of the events, the military personnel arrive at the scene after the plane has been unloaded.

Ricardo Ravelo
Ricardo Ravelo Galó has been a journalist for 30 years and has specialized in topics related to organized crime and national security. 
He received the national journalism award in 2008 for his reporting on drug trafficking in the weekly Proceso, where he covered the police source for fifteen years. 
In 2013 he received the Rodolfo Walsh award during the Black Week in Guijón, Spain, for his non-fiction book Narcomex. 
He is the author, among other books, of Los Narcoabogados, Osiel: life and tragedy of a capo, Los Zetas: the criminal franchise and In the hands of drug traffickers.

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