The Murder of Venezualan President Hugo Chávez. The CIA and DEA Cover Their Tracks

The journalist Eva Golinger (US – Venezuela) has repeatedly questioned the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. The website quotes her statement: “Everything that Washington was trying to achieve during the administration of Hugo Chávez is today being realized in his absence. The cancerous illness from which Chávez suffered was unusually aggressive and suspicious, and every day turns up more evidence that it is possible Chávez was murdered”.

The first signs of cancer were found in Chávez in May 2011. In June he underwent two surgeries at a specialized center in Havana. His Cuban surgeons found and removed a malignant tumor that had metastasized with sinister persistence, despite all preventive measures. New operations were needed. This athletic man, who was full of strength and physically robust, passed away on March 5, 2013 at the age of 58.

Expanding on this topic, Eva Golinger writes, «It is enough to know that one man who had for several years been one of his closest aides, who was often alone with him and brought him his food, coffee, and water, is now a protected witness in the United States. Soon Leamsy Salazar’s covert actions and close collaboration with intelligence agencies in Washington will be revealed».

The name of Hugo Chávez’s chief bodyguard was rarely mentioned in the media while the president was alive. Due to the nature of his work Leamsy Villafaña Salazar shunned publicity, did not like to be photographed, and tried to stay in the shadows. Chávez considered him to be a reliable, incorruptible, and professionally trained Bolivarian officer. This was precisely how the president described him on a TV broadcast about the attempted pro-American coup in April 2002. Conspirators managed to depose Chávez for three days, but with the support of the people and army, he triumphantly returned to the presidential Miraflores palace. From the roof of his palace he was welcomed by the military, among whom Salazar was readily visible, victoriously waving the Venezuelan flag. That image became the symbol of the victory over the counter-revolution.

Oddly enough, little is known about Salazar, and mostly from tight-lipped American sources. He was born in 1974 to a large family living in Petare, a slum district in the Venezuelan capital. After high school he entered the naval academy, graduating in 1998. He was a middling student, finishing 27th out of his class of 55. Nonetheless, in 1999 Salazar was tapped to be a presidential honor guard. Tito Rincón Bravo, Venezuela’s minister of defense and father of Leamsy’s first wife, played an important role in this appointment. Salazar became a personal assistant to Chávez. That job came with a very intense workload, due to the frantic pace of the president’s life.

After the events of 2002, Salazar was unexpectedly posted to a naval base in the provinces – in Punto Fijo (in Falcón State), but in 2006 Chávez ordered Salazar’s return to his former duties in the security detail.

Following Chávez’s death, Salazar provided security for the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello. But oddities in Salazar’s behavior made Cabello uneasy. At that time debate was still raging about the causes of Chávez’s death and the people who could have been involved, and so Cabello eventually asked the minister of defense to transfer Salazar to another post. At some point during this period Salazar married once again. His new wife was Anabel Linares Leal, a graduate of the military academy who had been presented with her officer’s sword from Chávez’s own hands. For a while Anabel worked with the financial accounts of the Venezuelan armed forces at Banco Bicentenario, which means that she had access to secret information about arms purchases abroad. The newlyweds applied for permission to travel to the Dominican Republic for their honeymoon. That permission was granted, and soon the couple was in Santo Domingo, but from there flew on to Spain. A special plane belonging to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) flew Salazar and his family from Spain to the US.

This is how Emili J. Blasco, a Washington correspondent for the Spanish newspaper ABC who has often served as a mouthpiece for propaganda from US intelligence services, described Salazar’s escape. He claimed that in Spain the Americans had subjected the Salazars to lengthy interrogations in order to determine the «true objectives of their break with the regime».

The stories about Salazar in the international media, which were similar in tone and had obviously come from the same source, emphasize that while Chávez was alive, Salazar had been a «committed Bolivarian», but that after his death Salazar had decided to break with the regime. Therefore, Salazar had held secret negotiations with the DEA for 13 months, not only to arrange his escape, but also to obtain certain promises regarding his own safety, as well as that of his wife and children. But the CIA is not mentioned, only the DEA. The reason for that is clear – the CIA is a spy agency, and any indicator of possible long-standing secret ties with this «bureau of hit men» was something Salazar’s protectors tried to avoid, knowing that Venezuela’s SEBIN (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional) counterintelligence agency would investigate the story of his involvement in Chávez’s murder.

Now the couple is in the US, living under federal protection, and they give testimony on a wide range of issues, but primarily on the «involvement» of various figures in the Bolivarian regime in drug trafficking, including military leaders. It should be kept in mind that long before Salazar made his escape, US intelligence agencies had begun to plant false information in the media about the existence of a so-called «Cartel of the Suns» (Cartel de los Soles), which was allegedly led by Diosdado Cabello and a group of Venezuelan generals with ties to him. Cabello was compromised as a preemptive measure, because US intelligence agencies saw him as the most likely successor to Chávez, but holding more radical anti-American views. Immediately after his escape, Salazar was recruited into this smear campaign against Cabello. Some of the information obtained from Salazar (or rather from his handlers in the CIA and DEA) was used by Emili J. Blasco in his book Bumerán Chávez, which was published simultaneously in Washington and Madrid in April 2015.

In particular, Salazar recounted how he had accompanied Diosdado Cabello on an excursion during which he had witnessed that leader of parliament’s (!) «direct involvement» in the late-night dispatch of drug-laden speedboats from the Paraguaná peninsula in Falcón State. For whom these drugs were intended and why this was done so close to the islands of Aruba and Curaçao, where there are surveillance outposts for the Pentagon, as well as CIA stations and DEA offices, Salazar did not explain. Based on Blasco’s commentary, one can conclude that the boats were headed for Cuba! What’s more, Salazar claimed that while accompanying Cabello he also had the opportunity to see his «secret armored vaults filled with US currency», with «mountains upon mountains of wrapped bills from floor to ceiling». That’s what a drug lord’s stash looks like in a Hollywood movie. According to Salazar’s account – or rather, the cover story that US intelligence services dreamed up for him – the troubles experienced by one of the guards who refused to take part in the drug deals were the last straw, prompting Salazar’s decision to flee: «They threatened to physically exterminate the man».

The pro-American media does its utmost to gloss over the questions that inevitably arise about Salazar’s participation in the preparations for Chávez’s murder. They claim that there can be no doubts about Salazar: he honorably served the regime and idolized Chávez until he realized that those immediately above him were mixed up in drug trafficking. However, the investigation conducted by SEBIN raises doubts about Salazar’s «spotless rectitude». Even his mother has admitted that Leamsy’s work in the presidential guard weighed heavily on him. But he was in no rush to distance himself from Chávez, because Salazar’s primary employer was someone else, and those people insisted that he strictly discharge his duties.

Recent media revelations about ties between Venezuela’s Cartel of the Suns and the Sinaloa Cartel have demonstrated the imagination and verve with which US intelligence agencies are fabricating «deals», with the intention of compromising their enemy. Allegedly «Chapo» Guzmán himself was in Venezuela in August and September of 2015 in order to discuss some joint projects. Passing mention has been made of his «business» trips to the country in 2009 and 2010 and of the warm nature of his relations with General Hugo Carvajal, a close associate of Diosdado Cabello. This is the same Carvajal whom the DEA tried to kidnap from the island of Aruba in the summer of 2014 – despite his diplomatic passport – and ship off to the US as a drug trafficker. Officials on the island prevented this from happening, and the general returned to Venezuela where he was greeted by President Maduro, Diosdado Cabello, and other Bolivarian leaders as a hero. It would be naive to think the DEA’s hunt for Carvajal was over. He is still on their «wanted list» because of evidence fabricated by US agents. That list also includes the names of others whom the DEA has identified as the ringleaders of the Cartel of the Suns.

Salazar’s statements are sharply at odds with the image of the honorable patriot he had previously cultivated. Quite revealing are Salazar’s allegations that Chávez died not in March 2013 but in December of 2012. Supposedly all of Chávez’s relatives took part in this ruse, as well as the members of the Bolivarian government, the leaders of Cuba, and Cuban counterintelligence. This was done in order to preserve the continuity of government authority serving the interests of “Maduro’s factions”. Thus, every decree and resolution signed by the president after December can be declared fraudulent, and the Maduro government – illegal.

Meanwhile, the buzz of reporting on the Venezuelan leaders’ «drug deals» is getting louder. The plan devised by US intelligence is clearly evident: to distract the global public from the fact that Salazar is the most likely candidate to have killed Chávez. The Bolivarian media calls Salazar “Judas”. Official (and unofficial) agencies in Venezuela are collecting evidence of his criminal activities, his clandestine meetings with representatives from the CIA and DEA, and the possibility that he gave the Americans information about the president’s travel itineraries and individuals with whom he had planned to meet, as well as biological material that belonged to Chávez.

The Americans are doing their best to impede this work. In Madrid, for example, the CIA station has manufactured a crisis surrounding the Venezuelan Defense Attaché Office staff, accusing them of spying on members of the opposition. But of course the real issue is quite different – the threat of lurid revelations about Chávez’s murder. Right now it is difficult to say who exactly will reveal the whole truth. That could end up being an idealist like Snowden – someone who considers lynching a politician like this to be unacceptable. There is some hope that a material incentive might prove effective: Venezuela’s leaders have decided to offer a financial reward for any specific information about the individuals who coordinated and carried out the murder of Hugo Chávez.

Eva Golinger is winner of the International Award for Journalism in Mexico (2009), named “La Novia de Venezuela” by President Hugo Chávez, is an Attorney and Writer from New York, living in Caracas, Venezuela since 2005 and author of the best-selling books, “The Chávez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela” (2006 Olive Branch Press), “Bush vs. Chávez: Washington’s War on Venezuela” (2007, Monthly Review Press). Since 2003, Eva has been investigating, analyzing and writing about US intervention in Venezuela using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain information about US Government efforts to undermine progressive movements in Latin America. Here’s a transcript of an interview witth her regarding her research into the mysterious death of Hugo Chavez:

MW– Do you think that Hugo Chavez was murdered and, if so, who do you think might have been involved?

Eva Golinger–  I believe there is a very strong possibility that President Chavez was assassinated. There were notorious and documented assassination attempts against him throughout his presidency. Most notable was the April 11, 2002 coup d’etat, during which he was kidnapped and set to be assassinated had it not been for the unprecedented uprising of the Venezuelan people and loyal military forces that rescued him and returned him to power within 48 hours. I was able to find irrefutable evidence using the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), that the CIA and other US agencies were behind that coup and supported, financially, militarily and politically, those involved. Later on, there were other attempts against Chavez and his government, such as in 2004 when dozens of Colombian paramilitary forces were captured on a farm outside of Caracas that was owned by an anti-Chavez activist, Robert Alonso, just days before they were going to attack the presidential palace and kill Chavez.

There was another, lesser-known plot against Chavez discovered in New York City during his visit to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2006. According to information provided by his security services, during standard security reconnaissance of an event where Chavez would address the US public at a local, renowned university, high levels of radiation were detected in the chair where he would have sat. The radiation was discovered by a Geiger detector, which is a handheld radiation detection device the presidential security used to ensure the President wasn’t in danger of exposure to harmful rays. In this case, the chair was removed and subsequent tests showed it was emanating unusual amounts of radiation that could have resulted in significant harm to Chavez had it gone undiscovered. According to accounts by the presidential security at the event, an individual from the US who had been involved in the logistical support for the event and had provided the chair was shown to be acting with US intelligent agents.

There were numerous other attempts on his life that were thwarted by the Venezuelan intelligence agencies and particularly the counterintelligence unit of the Presidential Guard that was charged with discovering and impeding such threats. One other well known attempt was in July 2010 when Francisco Chavez Abarca (no relation), a criminal working with Cuban-born terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, responsible for bombing a Cuban airliner in 1976 and killing all 73 passengers on board, was detained entering Venezuela and later confessed he had been sent to assassinate Chavez. Just five months earlier, in February 2010, when President Chavez was at an event near the Colombian border, his security forces discovered a sniper set up just over a quarter of a mile away from his location, who was subsequently neutralized.

While these accounts may sound like fiction, they are amply documented and very real. Hugo Chavez defied the most powerful interests, and he refused to bow down. As head of state of the nation without the largest oil reserves on the planet, and as someone who openly and directly challenged US and Western domination, Chavez was considered an enemy of Washington and its allies.

So, who could have been involved in Chavez’s assassination, if he was assassinated? Certainly it’s no far stretch to imagine the US government involved in a political assassination of an enemy it clearly – and openly – wanted out of the picture. In 2006, the US government formed a special Mission Manager for Venezuela and Cuba under the Directorate of National Intelligence. This elite intelligence unit was charged with expanding covert operations against Chavez and led clandestine missions out of an intelligence fusion center (CIA-DEA-DIA) in Colombia.  Some of the pieces that have been coming together include the discovery of several close aides to Chavez who had private, unobstructed access to him over prolonged periods, who fled the country after his death and are collaborating with the US government. If he were assassinated by some kind of exposure to high levels of radiation, or otherwise inoculated or infected by a cancer-causing virus, it would have been done by someone with close access to him, whom he trusted.

MW– Who is Leamsy Salazar and how is he connected to the US Intelligence Agencies?

Eva Golinger– Leamsy Salazar was one of Chavez’s closest aides for nearly seven years. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Venezuelan Navy and became known to Chavez after he waved the Venezuelan flag from the roof of the presidential guard’s barracks at the presidential palace during the 2002 coup, as the rescue of Chavez was underway. He became a symbol of the loyal armed forces that helped defeat the coup and Chavez rewarded him by bringing him on as one of his assistants. Salazar was both a bodyguard and an aide to Chavez, who would bring him coffee and meals, stand by his side, travel with him around the world and protect him during public events. I knew him and interacted with him many times. He was one of the familiar faces protecting Chavez for many years.  He was a key member of Chavez’s elite inner security circle, with private access to Chavez and privileged and highly confidential knowledge of Chavez’s comings and goings, daily routine, schedule and dealings.

After Chavez passed away in March 2013, because of his extended service and loyalty, Leamsy was transferred to the security detail of Diosdado Cabello, who was then president of Venezuela’s National Assembly and considered one of the most powerful political and military figures in the country. Cabello was one of Chavez’s closest allies. It should be noted that Leamsy remained with Chavez throughout most of his illness up to his death and had privileged access to him that few had, even from his security team.

Shockingly, in December 2014, news reports revealed that Leamsy had secretly been flown to the US from Spain, where he was allegedly on vacation with his family. The plane that flew him was said to be from the DEA. He was placed in witness protection and news reports have stated he is providing information to the US government about Venezuelan officials involved in a high level ring of drug trafficking. Opposition-owned media in Venezuela claim he gave details accusing Diosdado Cabello of being a drug-kingpin, but none of that information has been independently verified, nor have any court records or allegations been released, if they exist.

Another explanation for his going into the witness protection program in the US could include his involvement in the assassination of Chavez, possibly done as part of a CIA black op, or maybe even done under the auspices of CIA but carried out by corrupt elements within the Venezuelan government. Before the Panama Papers were released, I had accidentally discovered and was investigating a dangerous corrupt, high level individual within the government, who Chavez had previously dismissed, but who returned after his death and was placed in an even more influential, powerful position.  This individual also appears to be collaborating with the US government. People like that, who let greed obscure their conscience, and who are involved in lucrative criminal activity, could have also played a role in his death.

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