El Nuevo Herald reported today that the Venezuelan government is putting pressure on Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to stop the extradition to the United States of a Venezuelan national currently in detention in Colombia over his alleged involvement in the secretive Cartel de los Soles, a drug cartel that is supposedly run by high-ranking PSUV and Venezuelan army officials.
The man in question is a former army officer named Yazenky Lamas Rodon. The newspaper reports that Lamas was at one point the personal pilot to First Lady Cilia Flores, and that he played a key role in the Cartel de los Soles by organizing drug flights in and out of Venezuela. Lamas was arrested last month in Colombia by authorities there at the request of the DEA, who have requested his extradition to the US.
El Nuevo Herald claims that the Maduro administration formally requested the “favour” from Colombia at a meeting in Caracas with Colombian Minister of Defense Luis Carlos Villegas several weeks ago. The newspaper claims that the Venezuelan government is worried that given his prominent position in the cartel, Lamas might be persuaded to give up details about the cartel’s membership and operations in order to secure a more lenient sentence.
Colombia’s El Tiempo claims that Lamas is suspected of having been responsible for 1,600 kilograns worth of cocaine shipments out of Venezuela spread out “in over one hundred flights”. While Lamas is not suspected of having personally piloted drug-smuggling planes, he is believed to have organized the flights and helped disguise cartel planes as civilian aircraft.
El Nuveo Herald claims that the man on the far left in the picture below is Lamas. The woman with glasses is first lady Cilia Flores:
Women Walk Into Colombia to Shop Despite Border Closure
Yesterday, a group of approximately 500 women walked across the Colombia-Venezuela border at the Francisco de Paula Santander bridge in Ureña, Tachira state into Cucuta, Colombia, despite heavy National Guard presence restricting access through the border. The women walked to Colombia in the hopes of finding food and medicine, which is particularly scarce in the areas along the border.
The National Guard soldiers guarding the crossing were unwilling to use force to stop the women from walking to Colombia, although they did prohibit their re-entry into Venezuela for approximately one hour.
La Opinion, a newspaper out of Cucuta, interviewed some of the Venezuelan women as they got ready to return to Venezuela with their groceries. The video shows a long line of happy shoppers with bags full of food and other basic necessities waiting to get back to Venezuela.
Below, a video showing testimony from one of the Venezuelan shoppers, along with my translation:
Woman: We, the women from Ureña, decided to come here to this bridge in order to cross the border because we don’t have food in our homes. Our children are going hungry. We are in great need [of food].
Reporter: What did you find in Cucuta?
Woman: We found everything in Cucuta! And the Colombian people and the soldiers were very polite. They are all very humane. On behalf of the women of Ureña and the Venezuelan people, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
The women sing the Venezuelan national anthem as they cross the bridge back into Venezuela.
Below, more images of the crossing yesterday courtesy of Diario Los Andes:
Colombian Foreign Affairs Minister Maria Angel Holguin traveled to Cucuta today to hold a meeting with local mayors in order to discuss yesterday’s events.
PSUV Deputy’s Escorts Arrested for Extortion
Two personal escorts to National Assembly PSUV deputy Tania Diaz were arrested yesterday for extortion. The charges stem from allegations that the two men – Sammy Jose Zapata and Nelson Gregory Linares Gonzalez – demanded “a great sum of money” from a citizen who then reported the act to the authorities.
The two men were arrested yesterday along with “two firearms, a vehicle, four cell phones and cash”.
Flores’ Defense: Authorities Destroyed Evidence, Enticed Defendants
Defense lawyers for Efrain and Francisco Flores have accused U.S. authorities of destroying evidence in the drug-trafficking case involving the nephews of first lady Cilia Flores. Court documents show that the defense has argued that authorities edited or destroyed video and pictures “that did not fit with the narrative that the [agents] were building”. As a result, the defense has requested that the court either throw out all of the recorded evidence, or call the undercover agents involved in the operation to testify.
The defense argues that video and audio recording equipment was “strategically deactivated” during critical times of the undercover operation against the two men. Moreover, they argue that the video and audio evidence is not presented in its entirety, but rather in incomplete chunks.
The defense has also argued that Efrain and Francisco “lived modestly in Venezuela” as law-abiding citizens until they were contacted by undercover DEA officers posing as drug dealers. The officers allegedly promised the two men “an extremely lucrative” business opportunity, and provided them with the aircraft to transport drugs, a drug supplier as well as a buyer.
The court has yet to make a decision on the defense’s requests. The trial is set to start on November 7.
Leopoldo Lopez’s Defense Documents Stolen
Leopoldo Lopez’s mother, Antonieta Mendoza, announced earlier today that authorities entered her son’s cell in the Ramo Verde military prison and stole documents pertaining to his legal defense. Mendoza said that the theft occurred during what turned out to be “an extremely aggressive and violent” search of the cell in which her son is serving a 14 years prison sentence.
While Lopez has already been convicted for his role in the 2014 anti-government protests, he is currently in the process of appealing the sentence. The stolen documents apparently formed part of his appeal process.
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