For some time now I have been talking about the existence of a Latin American alliance of criminals, from Chavez to Lula, from Ortega to Castro, from Kirchner to Zelaya, a Club of Bandits created with the purpose of clinging to indefinite power in Latin America, while enriching themselves, see: http://lasarmasdecoronel.blogspot.com/2016/02/el-cartel-de-ladrones-latinoamericanos.html. This new article attempts to summarize the origins, the current status of this alliance, the magnitude of its threat and what remains to be done to wipe it out.
*** This criminal organization had its origin in the Sao Paulo Forum, a leftist organization created by Fidel Castro and Lula da Silva in 1990, with the main objective of “aiding the progressive forces in the continent who are in power”.
*** From 1999 onwards, the Chavez/Maduro Venezuelan regime has financed the Club with oil money and, as oil money dwindled, with drug trafficking and massive transnational corruption
*** State owned enterprises, private corporations and the International Financial System have helped this Club of Bandits to hide and launder their illicit financial gains
*** There is an increasing tide of protests and rejections against this club, in special against the Venezuelan regime, one of its main centers of criminal activity
*** Sanctions against the Club are urgently required and can be implemented multilaterally by the OAS or unilaterally through conventions and protocols such as the U.N. Palermo Convention, the U.S. Global Magnitsky Act and the initiatives taken by the U.S. Treasury Department
CREATION AND EARLY SUCCESS
The electoral victories of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Lula da Silva in Brazil and Nestor Kirchner in Argentina at the turn of the century provided Fidel and Raul Castro’s Cuba with the opportunity of masterminding a plan to take over and hold indefinitely political power in Latin America. This plan, a new version of the export of the Cuban Revolution pursued by Fidel Castro during the last century, followed the guidelines of the Sao Paulo Forum, created in 1990 by Fidel Castro and Lula da Silva, and progressed rapidly during the first decade of this century when an group of ideologically friendly leaders, mostly financed by the Club, obtained the presidencies in Bolivia (Evo Morales), Ecuador (Rafael Correa), Nicaragua (Daniel Ortega), El Salvador (Mauricio Funes), Uruguay (Jose Mujica), Honduras (Jose M. Zelaya) and Paraguay (Fernando Lugo).
The oil price boom during these years allowed Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez the use of $60-70 billion of Venezuelan money to support the consolidation and expansion of the plan. Much of this money went to continue paying for the presidential campaigns of ideological friends in the region. Such was the case of Ollanta Humala in Peru (first campaign), Cristina Fernandez-Kirchner in Argentina and Andres Lopez Obrador in Mexico, as well as supporting Honduras’s President Zelaya in his unsuccessful attempt to stay in power indefinitely, as Chavez had been doing in Venezuela.
The ultimate objective of the plan was for Latin America to become a “socialist/communist bloc” in the region, in order to counterbalance the influence of the United States. As part of this plan the Club established close links with rogue countries in other parts of the world, such as Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria and Zimbabwe and with terrorist groups such as the FARC and Hezbollah.
FROM POLITICAL ALLIANCE TO TRANSNATIONAL CRIMINAL CLUB
The deaths of Hugo Chavez and Nestor Kirchner plus the electoral defeat of Cristina Fernandez in Argentina and the ousting of Zelaya in Honduras and Lugo in Paraguay greatly weakened the progress of the plan. Other factors such as the collapse of the Venezuelan economy under the rule of Nicolas Maduro, the strong civic reaction against Lula and Rousseff’s corruption in Brazil, the departure of Rafael Correa from power in Ecuador and the death of Fidel Castro have also contributed to this weakening.
As Venezuelan oil money dwindled the political alliance has had to engage in openly criminal activities to finance their plans, becoming an openly criminal, transnational alliance involved in money laundering, drug trafficking, promotion of terrorism and hyper corruption at the highest political levels. Sadly, these activities are facilitated by the International Financial System, through the creation, by members of the Club of Bandits, of numerous shell companies in the financial havens of the world. Investigations in different countries have either indicted or strongly suggested that members of the alliance such as Lula da Silva, Dilma Rousseff, Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernandez, Daniel Ortega, Hugo Chavez and family, his successor Nicolas Maduro and many of his close collaborators have been involved in corruption, money laundering and, even, drug trafficking. In particular, the U.S. government has already sanctioned members of the Venezuelan bureaucracy, including President Maduro, the vice president, ministers and army generals for being involved in violations of human rights, drug trafficking and money laundering. In the course of these investigations the corrupt activities of Brazilian construction companies such as Odebrecht, Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela and government agencies such as Nicaragua’s Albanisa have been well documented.
THE CLUB IS STILL ALIVE WITH HELP FROM CHINA, RUSSIA AND BIG CORPORATIONS
Although the main objective of the plan is badly faltering due to strong civic reaction in countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Peru, it has been gaining ground in Colombia, where the members of FARC have been able to gain political power under the bland presidency of Juan Manuel Santos, in Mexico, where Andres Lopez Obrador is trying, again, to win the presidency and in Venezuela, where Maduro’s regime has become an open dictatorship, aided by the corrupt armed forces and in spite of the valiant but uneven fight staged by the university students and members of the lower and middle classes.
Russia and especially China have come to the rescue of the Venezuelan regime during the last 10 years and have loaned no less than $75 billion to Chavez and Maduro. In a more modest level some multinational corporations and financial institutions have also come to the aid of the corrupt regime, as in the case of Goldman Sachs acquisition of $2.8 billion of Venezuelan government bonds or the loans made by oil companies Rosneft ($2 billion) and Chevron ( $2 billion) to the Maduro and Chavez governments.
Such help has served to extend considerably the life of the Venezuelan regime. Currently the population is suffering under heavy repression at the hands of the dictatorship and the effects of malnutrition and lack of medical attention. Every year some 25000 citizens die violently in the streets, many of them at the hands of the police and armed forces controlled by the dictatorship and of partly controlled by the regime, partly anarchic, criminal gangs. Hundreds of dissidents are in prison. Almost two million Venezuelans, many with high academic qualifications, have fled the country and the mass emigration is intensifying in spite of the great financial and travel limitations imposed by the dictatorship.
A MAIN THREAT TO NATIONAL SECURITY IN THE REGION
The combined effects of the criminal transnational alliance described above and of the more specific Venezuelan crisis represent a significant threat to political and economic stability in the Americas. Specifically, drug trafficking activities in the hands of Venezuelan high-level bureaucrats, massive money laundering activities by the kleptocratic members of the club, promotion of terrorism and the current, massive emigration of Venezuelans into neighboring countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Panama and Peru and to a minor degree, to the islands of Aruba and Curacao, already represent a major threat to the Americas and, in particular, to the United States, a country which is the main target of Islamic terrorism, where much of the drug distributed by the Venezuelan regime finally arrives, and where petitions for political and humanitarian asylum have increased exponentially in the last few years.
Together with Castro’s Cuba the Venezuelan regime is the main center for the transnational political- criminal alliance that is attempting to transform Latin America and the Caribbean states into a communist bloc that would serve to counterbalance the political and economic influence of the United States in the region. The recognition of this alliance and its capabilities for coordinated criminal action has been slow to take hold among the democratic governments of the hemisphere and no investigation, as far as we know, has been made of its regional extent and imbrications. Investigations are still being conducted on a country basis, neglecting to consider the transnational links that have already existed for some time.
MAIN COMPONENTS OF THE THREAT TO POLITICAL AND SOCIAL STABILITY AND TO NATIONAL SECURITY IN THE HEMISPHERE
The main components of the threat posed by the Club of Bandits to political and social stability and to the national security in the region include:
· Establishing Communist/Socialist regimes in countries of Latin America
· Alignment with rogue countries in other parts of the world
· Promotion of Islamic terrorism in the hemisphere
· Intensive corrupt regional activities and money laundering
· Main centers of drug distribution and massive deliveries of drugs to the United states
· Large volumes of Venezuelans escaping the regime to neighboring countries and to other countries of the hemisphere
POSSIBLE COURSES OF ACTION AGAINST THE CLUB OF BANDITS
There are several possible courses of action against the Club of Bandits.
Investigations in each country
One of them has to do with the action against the main leaders of the club in each country. For example, a few days ago a member of Lula da Silva’s cabinet, Antonio Palocci, declared before Brazil’s judge Sergio Moro that there had been a pact between Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction company, and Lula’s Worker’s Party, PT, through which the company gave the party about $100 million, with the approval of Lula. This money would go to several purposes related to Lula’s permanence in power. In parallel, the Brazilian Attorney General, Rodrigo Janot, accused Dilma Rousseff and Lula of running a “criminal organization” that raked in hundreds of millions in bribes during the party’s nearly 14-year reign”, see: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/05/world/americas/brazil-dilma-rousseff-lula-corruption-workers-party.html. In Argentina the Kirchner couple is being investigated for corruption. In Peru former president Ollanta Humala and his wife are being investigated for accepting bribes from Odebrecht and money from former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. It is only in Venezuela that no investigations are being conducted because all institutions in the country are controlled by the narco- dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro
Investigations and sanctions by countries affected by the Kleptocratic regimes
In the case of Venezuela, where no investigations of the kleptocracy have been conducted this task has been undertaken, primarily, by the United States government and by the Organization of American States, OAS. and, also, by some European countries such as Spain and Switzerland. As a result, the Venezuelan regime, particularly its main leaders, such as the President, the Vice president, the Minister of the Interior, the head of the National Electoral Council and a group of top military and civilian bureaucrats have been exposed as violators of human rights, money launderers and/or drug traffickers. As a result of these investigations the Venezuelan regime has been defined as a rogue, failed state. Although individual sanctions against Venezuelan kleptocrats have been a powerful instrument to weaken the Venezuelan regime they are insufficient to accelerate the ousting of the bandits from power. Economic sanctions are now being considered both by the U.S. and by the European Union to further isolate the Venezuelan regime.
The potential role of International Protocols
There are, at least, three international protocols and conventions that can be utilized to combat the Latin American Club of Bandits. One is the Interamerican Democratic Charter of the OAS, the second is the U.N. Palermo Convention and the third is the U.S. recently passed Global Magnitsky Act.
The Inter American Democratic Charter
The first one is, in theory, a powerful instrument, since it gives the Organization of American States the authority to intervene and sanction any member country that violates the articles of the charter. This has been the case of Venezuela, first under Chavez and now under Maduro now. The current Secretary General, Luis Almagro, has made all possible efforts to apply this charter to the Venezuelan regime but they have, so far, failed, due to the blockage imposed within the organization by the member countries of PetroCaribe, which have sold their dignity and independence of action to the Venezuelan regime in exchange for oil subsidies. At least $30 billion in subsidies have been stolen away from the Venezuelan people in order to buy political loyalty from the mercenary states. However, the efforts of Mr. Almagro are slowly bearing fruit. Up to 20 OAS member countries, representing 90% plus of the population of Latin America now reject the Venezuelan regime as a dictatorship that has to be removed from office.
The U.N. Palermo Convention
This is a U.N. convention agreed in 2000 and ratified by all countries of the western hemisphere, which can be applied to prevent, investigate and punish transnational organized crime. The crime is defined as organized and transnational by this convention if committed by three or more people in one state but with effects in other states. This convention can be applied by any individual state that feels affected by the criminal actions of the group. The Director of the Miami based Interamerican Institute for Democracy, Mr. Carlos Sanchez Berzain is promoting actively this tool to be utilized against the Maduro regime, see video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHJrX7p2Yko
The Global Magnitsky Act
Passed by the U.S. Congress in December 2016 with ample bipartisan support, this Act might become the most powerful international tool against corruption. It gives the U.S. authority to sanction with freezing of assets and visa restrictions foreign individuals that have committed violations of human rights and/or acts of financial corruption. Recently up to 60 U.S. NGO’s presented U.S. Executive and Legislative representatives 15 cases of such violations , fully documented, in which this Act can and should be applied.
This Act will be a welcome ally of the actions taken by the U.S. Treasury Department, which –as we know – includes President Maduro, Vice president El Aissami, the President of the Supreme Court and about 30 other members of the Venezuelan regime. See: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20170726.aspx for the latest additions to the list.
Cuba: an invisible elephant in Main Street Latin America
Although the tutelage of the Venezuelan regime by Castro’s Cuba is well documented and the actions of the Club of Bandits clearly point to a significant strategic input from Havana, no actions are directed against the Castro regime. Many analysts have described how Venezuela is politically controlled by the Cuban Castro regime. Moises Naim says: “Maduro… is simply a useful idiot, the puppet of those who really control Venezuela: the Cubans, the drug traffickers, and Hugo Chavez’s political heirs. Those three groups effectively function as criminal cartels, and have co-opted the armed forces into their service; this is how it is possible that every day we see men in uniform willing to massacre their own people in order to keep Venezuela’s criminal oligarchy in power. The most important component of this oligarchy is the Cuban regime. Three years ago I wrote: “Venezuelan aid is indispensable to prevent the Cuban economy from collapsing. Having a government in Caracas that maintains such aid is a vital objective of the Cuban State. And Cuba has accumulated decades of experience, knowledge, and contacts that allow it to operate internationally with great efficacy and, when necessary, in a way that is almost invisible”. See: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/05/maduro-venezuela/528003/ . In spite of this no country in the hemisphere has taken the initiative of denouncing this situation and, as a result, the Castro regime stays free from pressure. There is no doubt that a quick resolution of the Venezuelan tragedy strongly depends on proper pressure being placed upon Castro’s Cuba by the U.S. and the European Union.
The Latin American Club of Bandits has morphed from being a group designed to place and maintain its members in power into a transnational criminal organization which still aims at indefinite and total political power but now adds drug trafficking, money laundering and obscene personal enrichment of its individual members to its priorities. Although it has suffered important political reversals the Club still represents one of the main threats to the political stability of the Americas. Its leading forces, the Venezuelan and the Cuban regimes, should be politically isolated and the object of vigorous political and economic sanctions either multilaterally by organizations such as the U.N., the OAS or the European Union or unilaterally, by means of the application of the Palermo Convention, the Global Magnitsky Act or the actions of the United States government.