The Nicolás Maduro regime promoted Interior Minister Néstor Reverol to general in chief, the highest military rank in Venezuela — even though the officer is charged by federal prosecutors in New York with accepting large bribes in exchange for protecting drug shipments to the United States.
The promotion marks the first time that a national guard officer receives the rank, in a move that observers say alters the balance of forces inside the Venezuelan military.
The U.S. Department of Justice accuses Reverol of being part of the Venezuelan drug trafficking organization known as the Cartel of the Suns, allegedly controlled by Maduro and the regime top lieutenants Diosdado Cabello and Tareck El Aissami.
Experts said that the Reverol announcement, made on Tuesday afternoon, continues Maduro’s practice of rewarding and protecting regime members accused by the United States of drug trafficking, corruption or human rights violations.
But the announcement was also seen as a counterweight maneuver to curb the growing power of Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López inside the Venezuelan military.
“This seeks to neutralize a little bit Vladimir Padrino, who also is a general in chief,” said former National Guard Lt. José Colina, who leads a Miami activist group made up of persecuted Venezuelan exiles and military personnel.
“Reverol and Padrino always had differences and divisions over the control of the National Armed Forces and in 2015 there was an attempt to name Reverol as Defense Minister as a replacement for Padrino López,” Colina added.
Padrino’s hold over the Venezuelan military grew last month after Maduro retired more than 50 high ranking officers loyal to Cabello, but Reverol still controls the National Guard and has direct access to Maduro through El Aissami, the expert said.
The Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office charged Reverol with becoming a key player in Venezuela’s drug trafficking operations, producing evidence that he began protecting cocaine shipments when he was chief of the country’s antidrug agency in 2008.
“In exchange for payments from narcotics traffickers, (Reverol and his partners), among other things, alerted narcotics traffickers to future drug raids or locations of law enforcement counter-narcotics activities so that the narcotics traffickers could change the storage locations of narcotics or alter transportation routes of times and thus avoid detection by law enforcement,” Reverol’s federal indictment says.
The Venezuelan officer is also accused of hindering investigations, releasing imprisoned drug traffickers and arranging the release of seized narcotics.
The shipments protected by Reverol normally amounted to hundreds of kilograms of cocaine and at times surpassed the one-thousand kilogram mark.
The U.S. government also sanctioned Reverol for corrupt practices and human rights violations.
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