Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López meets with Colombian ex-President Álvaro Uribe (left), and Juan Guaidó poses with a Colombian death squad leader (right) " data-medium-file="https://i0.wp.com/thegrayzone.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Leopoldo-Lopez-Colombia-Uribe-drugs-Venezuela-Guaido.jpg?fit=300%2C169&ssl=1" data-large-file="https://i0.wp.com/thegrayzone.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Leopoldo-Lopez-Colombia-Uribe-drugs-Venezuela-Guaido.jpg?fit=1024%2C576&ssl=1" />
Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López meets with Colombian ex-President Álvaro Uribe (left), and Juan Guaidó poses with a Colombian death squad leader (right)
While the US and its allies glorify Leopoldo López as a new MLK, the US-backed Venezuelan opposition collaborates with Colombia’s narco-affiliated, death squad-sponsoring former President Álvaro Uribe.
According to Western corporate media outlets and human rights groups, Venezuela’s far-right opposition leader Leopoldo López is a hallowed saint.
The real Leopoldo López, however, has repeatedly shown himself to be a violent extremist committed to overthrowing Venezuela’s government no matter the cost. And the right-wing political opposition factions under his control have revealed links to drug trafficking, death squads, and organized crime in neighboring Colombia.
This December, López traveled to Colombia for a series of meetings and photo ops. He flew to the country’s border with Venezuela on a plane registered with a Florida-based company that had sold an aircraft to a Colombian who was busted for trafficking hundreds of kilograms of cocaine in Honduras.
López proceeded to meet with far-right Colombian politicians who were closely connected to drug cartels and paramilitaries that have massacred civilians. His hosts included the notoriously corrupt former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, and his handpicked successor, Iván Duque.
Colombia has helped support some of López’s radical right-wing regime-change plots, including an attempted invasion of Venezuela in May 2020.
While top officials demonize their neighbor’s elected Chavista government as a “dictatorship,” López’s meetings in Colombia took place after at least 86 massacres of human rights defenders in the country, resulting in the deaths of more than 290 social movement activists.
Leopoldo López’s protege Juan Guaidó collaborated with Colombian drug traffickers
At the height of the US-backed regime-change attempt in 2019, Venezuelan coup leader Juan Guaidó – a protege of Leopoldo López – was photographed meeting with members of the Rastrojos, a Colombian paramilitary involved in drug trafficking.
The Rastrojos have been responsible massacres of civilians, political assassinations, drug trafficking, weapons dealing, kidnappings, and other crimes. The paramilitary group is linked to former Colombian President Uribe, who met with Leopoldo López in December 2020.
Photos from February 2019 showed Guaidó posing with two leaders of the paramilitary group – Alberto Lobo Quintero, known as “el Brother Armado,” and Jhon Jairo Durán, known as “el Menor.”
These drug traffickers reportedly helped Guaidó illegally cross the border into Colombia to carry out a US-backed coup attempt on February 23, in which opposition hooligans supported by Washington tried to ram a truck full of US supplies across a bridge into Venezuela, but ended up setting the convoy on fire instead.
Lo dijimos desde el primer día: la entrada a Colombia el 23 de febrero del sr @jguaido fue coordinada con los Rastrojos. Aquí están alias el brother armado, y el segundo al mando de este grupo paramilitar, alias el menor. pic.twitter.com/qflAYBgWQf
Leopoldo López plots Venezuela coups with support from US and Colombia
While Juan Guaidó was selected as interim president because of his former position in the opposition-controlled National Assembly, he was little more than a stand-in for the Venezuelan right-wing’s kingmaker: Leopoldo López Mendoza, scion of one of Venezuela’s most influential oligarchic clans.
Since leftist leader Hugo Chávez won his first presidential election in 1998, López has reigned over an extremist right-wing hellbent on removing him from power. López has helped oversee numerous violent coup attempts in Venezuela, and was a leading force behind the violent “guarimba” barricades that paralyzed the country.
In April 2002, when the military briefly overthrew President Chávez, López was mayor of the affluent Chacao municipality in Caracas. López directly assisted the coup by leading a mob that surrounded the house of a government minister, brutalized the top-level official in the street, then kidnapped him. Latin America expert Greg Grandin described López years later as “a thug. Ted Cruz with a mob.”
Flush with US financial support, López helped found the Popular Will party that became a vehicle for Guaidó’s bid for regime change.
Venezuelan political analyst Diego Sequera explained to The Grayzone, “Leopoldo López is the only Venezuelan that actually the US government really cares about; everyone else is just prop; it’s just like secondary characters.”
The Wall Street Journal later revealed that López was the mastermind of the comically botched military invasion. In a June 26 article titled “Venezuelan Opposition Guru Led Planning to Topple Maduro,” the newspaper disclosed that López “was behind a months-long effort to contract mercenaries to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro,” and had “considered at least six proposals from private security contractors to carry out military incursions to spur a rebellion in Venezuela’s armed forces and topple” the Chavista government.
López collaborated with allies of Guaidó and fellow members of their Popular Will party. They ended up deciding to contract the Florida-based mercenary firm Silvercorp USA, planning the invasion with Jordan Goudreau, a US Army veteran, and Clíver Alcalá, a former Venezuelan general who defected to Colombia.
López’s allies then introduced Goudreau and Alcalá to right-wing Venezuelan opposition leaders in numerous meetings in the Colombian capital Bogotá, seeking millions of dollars of financing for the operation, the Wall Street Journal reported.
These mercenaries trained dozens of fighters, mostly Venezuelan defectors, in camps in northeastern Colombia. Then on May 3 they launched the attack from Colombian territory.
Leopoldo López and allies in the Popular Will party considered least six proposals from private security contractors to carry out military incursions to spur a rebellion in the armed forces and topple Maduro. https://t.co/xW67WYGDoT via @WSJ
Two former US soldiers participated in the failed invasion, and are currently being imprisoned in Caracas.
The Wall Street Journal made it clear that López has pushed for the most extreme, violent strategies to overthrow the government. “López expressed the view that negotiations and the electoral route would take too much time,” it reported.
Juan Forero, the Journal’s South America bureau chief and a staunch supporter of Venezuela’s right-wing opposition, noted on Twitter that “Leopoldo Lopez’s party was key in selling Trump on plan to back Guaidó.”
Leopoldo Lopez’s party was key in selling Trump on plan to back Guaidó. The outreach began in Feb 2017 with Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori. “They came to us with the most organized, effective approach,” Fernando Cutz, then NSC man on Venezuela in WH https://t.co/xW67WYGDoT@WSJ
Leopoldo López flies with drug trafficking-linked plane company
The various coup attempts planned by Leopold López, Juan Guaidó, and their sponsors in Washington and Bogotá have failed. So this December, López adopted a new PR strategy.
On December 11, he flew from his home in Spain to Cucutá, a Colombian city on the border with Venezuela. There he posed for photos with Venezuelan immigrants, in a marketing exercise designed to portray himself as a noble, bleeding-heart defender of his people.
But Venezuelan journalists soon uncovered a scandal: The plane that ferried López to Cucutá was owned by a Florida-based company that had previously sold a plane to a Colombian who was busted in Honduras for transporting 500 kilograms of cocaine.
The Venezuelan investigative journalism publication La Tabla analyzed photos of López with the aircraft to uncover its links to Colombian drug trafficking.
López flew on a small AC90 plane with the tail number N690SE. The aircraft’s flight log can be publicly accessed using a tracking website. With these resources, as well as photos of the plane on Instagram, La Tabla found that it was owned by Skyline Enterprises Corp.
This company was registered with the United States government and based in Florida in the city of Miramar, a suburb of Miami.
La compañía Skyline Enterprises Corp es un conglomerado de servicios de aviación y es la firma que formalmente actúa como "propietario fiduciario" del AC90 ante la administración aeronáutica #FAA de EEUU. La última gestión la realizó en SEP de 2019. Aquí la captura de AviationDB. pic.twitter.com/QSZcvKU76s
Skyline Enterprises has been in the spotlight before for indirect links to drug trafficking.
In 2018, the Miami New Times published an article titled “Drug Traffickers Are Buying Up Planes in South Florida.” The investigation revealed that the company had sold a plane in 2009 to a Colombian customer. Then in 2010, that plane was found in Honduras with 500 kilograms of cocaine.
The director of Skyline, Gilbert Gonzalez, told the newspaper, “We check as much as we can the background of the people or the companies,” but once it is sold, “you could turn around and give it to your cousin… It’s kind of hard to track.”
En ABR2018 el portal Miami New Times publicó reportaje sobre compra de aviones en sur de #Florida para narcotráfico. El principal caso era el de un avión vendido por #Skyline en 2009 a un cliente colombiano y que en NOV2010 fue capturado en #Honduras con 500 kilos de cocaína. pic.twitter.com/QhtSvdL6nB
When the cocaine-filled plane was intercepted by Honduran authorities in a remote region of the country in 2010, the pilots landed and opened fire at security forces, according to a local media report.
One of the Honduran co-pilots was killed. The other co-pilot, a Colombian, was arrested. The plane had a valid Colombian license when it was seized with the 500 kilos of cocaine.
La Tabla discovered that the same aircraft caught trafficking cocaine in Honduras was later found in 2020 in Colombia. The plane crashed north of the capital Bogotá.
According to public records, the plane was registered with a man named Henry Moreno Cortázar.
Una revisión detenida de los datos actuales y su comparación con los de 2010 confirma qué es el mismo avión, que su propietario y operador en Colombia es el mismo que la adquirió en 2009 y que nadie sabe cómo el gobierno hondureño se la devolvió. pic.twitter.com/RCS5Dz7iqc
Leopoldo López meets with Colombia’s Álvaro Uribe, friend of drug cartels and death squads
On December 15, Leopoldo López tweeted a photo of himself with the Colombia’s far-right former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez.
Uribe is the most powerful politician in Colombia, the beneficiary of extensive and well-documented links to the drug cartels and death squads that hold sway in the country.
In 2018, the National Security Archive released declassified US State Department cables that showed Washington was aware its favorite ally in Bogotá had collaborated for decades with drug traffickers and paramilitaries, using cocaine money to fund his political campaigns.
A 2018 New York Times investigation acknowledged that a feared death squad used an Uribe family ranch as its headquarters, planning assassinations, kidnappings, and other crimes on their land. Álvaro’s brother Santiago Uribe was imprisoned on charges of directing a paramilitary group, called the Doce Apóstoles (12 Apostles).
The Venezuelan right-wing’s kingpin apparently had no problem with Uribe’s lengthy list of crimes, because he praised the Colombian leader in his tweet.
Uribe is “a good friend in the struggle for the freedom of Venezuela,” López insisted. He also made it clear that this drug-linked, death squad-sponsored Colombian mafioso is helping sponsor regime-change plots in Venezuela.
“We spoke about the urgent need to get out of the dictatorship to put an end to the suffering of our people,” López wrote.
Reunidos con @AlvaroUribeVel, un buen amigo de la lucha por la libertad de Venezuela.
Hablamos sobre la necesidad urgente de salir de la dictadura para poner fin al sufrimiento de nuestro pueblo que hoy llora por la muerte de hombres, mujeres y niños inocentes en Güiria pic.twitter.com/GoYf5wRFct
Colombia’s current president, Iván Duque, is Uribe’s handpicked successor, and follows in his far-right footsteps.
Duque also met with López during his December trip. The Colombian president invited the Venezuelan opposition extremist onto his program “Prevención y Acción” (Prevention and Action), a daily show in which the government discusses the measures it is taking to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
Duque took advantage of the massive audience of average Colombians who watch the coronavirus program, which is supposed to be apolitical, to bombard his citizens with anti-Venezuela propaganda.
At the end of the broadcast, Duque and López spoke for five minutes about the situation in Venezuela.
Duque referred to Venezuela’s democratically elected government as a “dictatorship of extreme brutality,” while heaping praise on López, who he declared “has had a voice full of courage and conviction” and a “voice of freedom.”
For his part, López exacerbated xenophobia inside Colombia by insisting that if Maduro’s government was not soon overthrown, hordes of Venezuelan immigrants would continue crossing the border, and bring the coronavirus along with them, infecting their neighbors.
López also heaped enthusiastic praise on the far-right Colombian government in the TV broadcast, calling it “an example for the world.”
That week, the corpses of human rights defenders continued to pile up, bringing the total of mass killings of social movement activists in Colombia in 2020 to 86.
HRW has spent years heroizing the coup-plotting Venezuelan opposition leader, portraying López as a “prisoner of conscience” and “Venezuela’s most prominent political prisoner” before he was released in a failed coup attempt on April 30, 2019.
Facing mounting criticism for his regime change antics, and desperate to save face, López sought out a photo-op with the liberal mayor of Bogotá, Claudia López, in what Latin American media outlets referred to as a “surprise.”
Claudia López hails from Colombia’s centrist Green Alliance party. She is an open lesbian and supports progressive cultural policies, but never diverges from certain political dogmas when regional politics are concerned. She is a harsh critic of Venezuela and other leftist governments in Latin America.
On December 17, the mayor held an event in Bogotá featuring López alongside Venezuelan migrants. She praised Leopoldo López, saying, “It makes me happy to see him free.”
In her tweet, Claudia López also went out of her way to demonize Venezuela’s democratically elected government as a “dictatorship”
Recibimos con gusto en @Bogota a familias venezolanas, a Reymar “su embajadora migrante” y a Leopoldo López, a quien me alegra ver en libertad.
The photo-op was clearly aimed at papering over Leopoldo’s extreme-right image, portraying him as a supporter of political pluralism who can make common cause with liberals. For Claudia López, it was a way of reassuring conservative critics that she would faithfully line up against revolutionary left-wing forces in the region.
But it was not enough to deflect from the ultimate agenda of Leopoldo López. His trip represented the open consolidation of an alliance between the putschist forces under his control and a Colombian government intimately intertwined with drug trafficking and criminal networks, both hellbent on crushing the leftists in their midst.
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