Alleged Maduro co-conspirator says CIA knew about coup plans | world news

By JOSHUA GOODMAN, Associated Press writer

MIAMI (AP) — A retired Venezuelan army general says U.S. officials at the highest levels of the CIA and other federal agencies are aware of his efforts to oust Nicolás Maduro — a role that he says him, should immediately debunk the criminal charges for which he worked alongside the socialist leader to flood the United States with cocaine.

The staggering charge was filed Friday night in court by attorneys for Cliver Alcalá seeking to have narcoterrorism charges filed nearly two years ago by Manhattan federal prosecutors dismissed.

“Efforts to overthrow the Maduro regime are well known to the United States government,” Alcalá’s lawyers said in a November 2021 letter to prosecutors that accompanied their motion to dismiss the charges. “His opposition to the regime and his alleged efforts to overthrow it have been reported to the highest levels of the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council and the Treasury Department.

Court records raise new questions about what the Trump administration knew about the failed plot to oust Maduro involving Jordan Goudreau, an idealistic but battle-scarred former American Green Beret, and a ragtag army of Venezuelan military deserters he was aiding Alcalá to train in secret camps. in Colombia at the time of his arrest.

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Alcalá has been a vocal critic of Maduro since he took office in 2013 following the death of Hugo Chávez.

But despite such open hostility towards Maduro, he and his nemesis were charged together in a second superseding indictment of being part of a cabal of senior Venezuelan officials and military officers who worked with the Colombian rebels to allegedly send 250 metric tons of cocaine a year to the United States.

Although the lawyers did not provide any details about what the U.S. government might have known about Alcalá’s coup plot, they said they believe his activities “have been communicated to the highest levels of intelligence.” ‘a number of US government agencies’, including the CIA, the Departments of Treasury and Justice, the NSC. and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

To this end, they are seeking documents and information, mostly classified, regarding communications between US officials and members of the Venezuelan opposition regarding Alcalá. These US officials include former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Attorney General William Barr as well as senior White House officials and unnamed CIA agents in Colombia.

The CIA did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent Friday evening.

Two allies of opposition leader Juan Guaidó – whom the United States recognizes as Venezuela’s rightful leader – as well as Miami-based political strategist JJ Rendon, who signed a never-executed deal on Guaidó’s behalf for Goudreau to lead a snatch operation against Maduro.

“The evidence is clear that he openly and actively opposed his alleged co-conspirators for at least the past eight years,” the attorneys wrote in the letter to prosecutors included in Friday’s filing. “Indeed, his conduct, in support of the democratic ideals in which he believes, constituted treason against the very persons whom the government alleges to be his co-conspirators for whom they seek his detention, imprisonment and life.”

In Alcalá’s lawyers’ account, on the eve of the launch of what would have been his second armed raid on Maduro, the former army major general received a knock on the door from an enforcement official. US laws at his home in Barranquilla, Colombia, informing him that he had been indicted.

“The agent (informed him) that he could either board a private jet bound for New York or be held in a Colombian prison where he would no doubt be targeted by Venezuelan intelligence services for assassination,” Alcala’s lawyers say. “Left with little choice, (he) agreed to escort the agent back to the United States.”

Although Alcalá was out of sight in a Manhattan jail, a small group of would-be freedom fighters pushed forward and on May 3, 2020 — two days after an Associated Press investigation blew the lid on the clandestine camps – launched a cross-border raid operation which was easily mopped up.

Operation Gideon – or the Bay of Piglets, as the bloody fiasco became known – ended with the deaths of six insurgents and two of Goudreau’s former special forces cronies behind bars in Caracas. He also delivered a major propaganda blow to Maduro, who has long accused the United States of seeking to assassinate him.

The United States has always denied any involvement in violent attempts to overthrow Maduro. However, Pompeo’s cryptic statement that the United States had no “direct involvement” in Operation Gedeon has left some observers wondering what the United States might have known about the plot in an area where the CIA has a long history of coup plotting during the Cold War.

Evidence that the United States knew of Alcalá’s clandestine activities could bolster his defense at trial that even though he had been a member of a drug trafficking ring — which he denies — he took action. to back out of the criminal plot years before being charged.

Alcalá’s lawyers also argue that despite reviewing thousands of documents, video and audio recordings handed over by prosecutors, they found no evidence that Alcalá was involved in the alleged narcotics conspiracy. .

The only act linking Alcalá to the conspiracy in the 28-page indictment is a 2008 meeting he allegedly attended with former Chávez spy chief Hugo Carvajal and Socialist Party leader Diosdado Cabello during from which it was agreed that Alcalá would take on unspecified “additional duties” to coordinate Drug Trafficking.

Alcalá has lived in Colombia since fleeing Venezuela in 2018 after discovering a plot he was secretly leading in hopes of ousting Maduro. The United States offered a $10 million reward for his arrest when Barr announced at a press conference that he, Maduro and several other top Venezuelan officials had been charged.

Alcala’s attorneys also claim that around 2018, Assistant US Attorney Michael Lockard indicated in various discussions that his office decided not to charge Alcala with narcotics-related crimes because the evidence against him was “equivocal.” .

They also produced a copy of a 2014 email sent by one of Alcala’s attorneys, Adam Kaufmann, to the then-appointed prosecutor recounting a conversation he had with DEA ​​agents who allegedly told him that the government had located a witness with information that led them to abandon their investigation.

Alcala’s defense says it has not received any documentation to substantiate the government’s apparent apprehensions. Under what are known as the Brady Rules, prosecutors are required to hand over evidence to defendants that may help prove their innocence.

Before heading to 2020, Alcalá shocked many by claiming responsibility for a stockpile of US-made assault weapons and military equipment seized on a highway in Colombia for what he called a planned incursion into Venezuela to expel Maduro. Without giving many details, he said he had a contract with Guaidó and his “American advisers” to buy the weapons, but accused the US-backed opposition of betraying the cause.

“We had everything ready,” Alcalá said in a video posted to social media moments before surrendering. “But the circumstances that have tormented us throughout this fight against the regime have generated leaks from the very heart of the opposition, the part that wants to coexist with Maduro.

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