Six out of every ten Venezuelan sex workers killed abroad since 2012 were in Mexico. In that country it is often about attractive girls who work as high-level company ladies or night-time waiters, businesses directly managed by organized crime. There are many clues that lead to the Guadalajara New Generation Cartel at the peak of this trade in people, with the complicity of others such as Los Cuinis and Tepito. Often the human merchandise becomes the property of capos and assassins, with whom he knows the hell of the femicides
Venezuela is known for two export products: beauty and oil.
As the country has crumbled politically and economically, these two products have remained important for the country’s survival. Oil is the bedrock for the economy, and beauty which in the past often elevated Venezuela’s position in international beauty contests is today a cash economy that is rescuing Venezuelan families from starvation.
With the country’s fever-high interest in beauty, and beauty contests held every year to find the next Miss Venezuela, beautiful women are an ample commodity in Venezuela that is today being exploited by international criminal gangs. Mexican and Colombian organized crime groups, which operate in Venezuela and out of the country, seek Venezuelan women out because of their reputation for exquisite looks and their potential for huge earnings as sex slaves.
Until 2014, Venezuela was classified as a transit corridor for women trafficked from other South American nations. But in the last four years, the country has turned into a producer of women for the sex trade.
women’s experiences have been catastrophic. A total of 19 Venezuelan women who
worked as escorts or, barmaids, have been murdered since 2012 in various
countries. The number of murders had a 200 percent increase after 2017 when the
economic crisis pushed more Venezuelans to migrate to neighboring
countries. Sixty percent of the murders occurred in Mexico. But others
took place in Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador.
For women, the situation is direr because of their reputation as beautiful. “They arrive with zero protection, and they are exploited because they are considered beautiful and are vulnerable,” said Beatriz Borges, of the Caracas-based Centro de Justicia y Paz, Cepaz.
In Mexico, Venezuelan women and girls arrive recruited under false expectations. Ten Venezuelan women were killed since 2012 in various cities, including Mexico City. The murders occurred at a time when thousands of Venezuelans were arriving in the country, and many women only found work as barmaids or escorts.
However, our investigation has found that Mexican drug cartels have carefully identified Venezuelan women as an important money-making commodity. According to a Venezuelan analyst, Mexican cartels have understood the value of Venezuelan women since 2010. Each woman working for a cartel as an escort can have the earning potential of up to $200 thousand a year, according to independent accounting by a former escort in Mexico City. (5a) Hence since 2010, news items began appearing in Mexican media detailing the presence of Venezuelan women who were found working at bars in various Mexican states.
In the early years, the Sinaloa Cartel led the way with this new trafficking model. But soon another cartel, the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion, and its partner Los Cuinis—Mexico’s most powerful criminal groups today—created the most sophisticated networks to entangle women. They even hired a Venezuelan photographer to specifically recruit former Venezuelan beauty queens and models for their sex network. The photographer was identified by the U.S. Treasury Department in early 2018 and flagged in one of the department’s Office on foreign Assets control bulletins.(5b) A former U.S. official who served in Venezuela said the trafficking of Venezuelan women, unfortunately, grew from Venezuela’s international reputation of having beautiful women. “The national mindset has contributed to the current exploitation,” he said.
The U.S. State Department’s Trafficking report (1) has now placed Venezuela in the Tier 3 level, the highest/worst ranking, because of continuing in-country trafficking of women and the government’s failed efforts to “significantly” combat the crime.
The upsurge in the numbers of victims of this phenomenon appears to have caught the Venezuelan government unprepared. Local and international human rights groups have raised the alarm about the new trend, but, to date, the government of President Nicolas Maduro has issued few clear policies that could potentially address the problem.
While there have been some efforts, such as a raid in September 2018, where the Venezuelan Attorney General busted a Caracas-based local criminal ring that had victimized 26 women. The government’s efforts overall, at both the enforcement and policy levels, have been inadequate.
In addition, official statistics are limited. Venezuela’s Fundamental Law on the Right of Women to Live Free of Violence is supposed to legislate against the crime of women trafficking, but it is a toothless effort. It does not provide effective procedures to fight against the practice, according to human rights observers.
Similarly, two of the country’s statistical organizations, the National Office against Organized Crime and Financing of Terrorism, ONCDOFT, and the National Institute of Statistics, INE, have not issued new data on this crime.
International databases, which depend on local data, are incomplete because of the difficulty of gathering information in the country, according to human right monitors.
Media and non-governmental organizations have identified the presence of international criminal rings that specialize in transporting women for sexual exploitation from Venezuela to other Latin American nations, Europe and Asia
Investigators say the situation has worsened since 2016 when Venezuela's electoral council suspended the opposition's campaign to hold a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro.
Human rights observers said the suspension escalated the crisis and there was a breakdown in the institutional protection mechanisms, which accelerated a larger exodus of Venezuelans.
The United Nations estimates that more than 3.5 million Venezuelans have fled the country because of the economic and institutional breakdown in the last few years. And by the end of 2019, the United Nations calculated that up to 5 million people—16 percent of the population - could well leave the country because of the crisis(footnote). Colombia alone has already received 800 thousand Venezuelans, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, (UNHCR).
Kenni Finol was a major attraction in the online sex escort circuit in Mexico City.
Her long blonde hair and sparkling green eyes were attention-grabbers. Never mind that the hair was dyed, and the shapely body had been improved with surgery. She was featured prominently in the now-defunct X-Rated website zonadivas.com, an upscale escort service, where Kenni, and dozens of other young women from Venezuela and Argentina, pinned their pictures and offered sexual favors for a hefty fee. The 26-year-old former university student was a dream come true in this country where blondes exist but are not accessible to every man.
Her clientele included Influential politicians, actors, and local drug traffickers.
Kenni came to Mexico in 2015, with dreams of becoming a model or an actress. She peppered her multiple Facebook accounts with pictures of herself as a diva, in private jets, striking provocative poses with fancy goods she obtained from her suitors. It was the image she wanted her family and her followers to believe. Then there were her pictures of herself with a kilo of pure cocaine, or sporting an AK 47 rifle.
Kenni was winning. She received several proposals to marry--a Mexican senator asked her to move in with him.
But Mexico City’s underground world is dangerous. Kenni knew it, but her fascination for bad boys led her astray. In a Facebook account, she confessed: “when you are beautiful but you like malandros.” In Venezuela, she had been the girlfriend of a prison gang member who was killed by police in 2014. She tattooed his name on her right shoulder. Born and raised in Primero de Septiembre, a rough barrio in Port of Maracaibo, Kenni was street-smart. Her brother Terlis Finol says his sister was happy, easy-going and smart.
But he realizes she went too far. “She put her head in the lion’s mouth,” said Terlis Pinol in a telephone interview. Apparently, some of the escorts in Mexico City are asked by cartels to seduce their clients and sell drugs or guns, hence the photos.
Kenni began dating a sicario, or hired killer soon after her arrival in Mexico. He worked for Union Tepito, a murderous organized crime group that runs Mexico City’s underworld, according to journalists and government officials.() She became the girlfriend of the sicario, named Brayan, and nicknamed “Pozole”—a name given to killers who disappear their victims’ bodies by diluting them in chemicals—shortly after her arrival. The new boyfriend was nice, but then he turned jealous of Kenni’s work.
When she witnessed Brayan killing people, Kenni realized she was out of her depth. She taped two phone videos that she circulated among her friends. She talks to the camera and comments on how Brayan kills with glee. These two videos helped Mexican police detain Brayan.
In October 2017, when their relationship had soured, Brayan kidnapped Kenni and a friend and beat them up badly. He cut the back of Kenni’s head with a machete. Her arm was broken. In her last private video released soon after the beating, she showed her swollen face and fingered Brayan incriminating him in any future violence against her. In the same video, Kenni begs him to give her some time so her bruises heal. Brayan had threatened Kenni to leave Mexico, or he would kill her.
Terlis, her brother, says she stopped telling the family what was going on. But she had said she was ready to leave Mexico. But she lost her Venezuelan passport. When the passport was returned to her a month later, it had expired.
Then in February 2017, she was abducted from a music festival she attended with a Venezuelan escort friend. The friend, not identified nd who was not abducted with Kenni, said seven men burst into the concert’s VIP area and nabbed Kenni. The other woman was spared, after, according to Kenni’s brother, Kenni begged she be let go.
Kenni’s mangled body was dumped on a side street in Colonia Jardines de Santa Clara in Ecatepec, a low-income, crime-ridden barrio known for narrow callejones and boxy adobe houses in the State of Mexico, next to Mexico City. For the last 20 years, the area is a known body dumping area where women who have disappeared are found.
Kenni’s body was broken. Her face was disfigured with acid. She had been gang-raped.
Kenni Finol was the tenth Venezuelan escort killed in Mexico in the last five years. Her murder was shocking, even in this country known as the Thailand of Latin America because of its statistics on women trafficking.
Mexico is a conservative country where sex workers can exist but are not accepted by the general population. Prostitution is legal and an estimated 20,000 persons fall victim to sex trafficking every year, according to the International Organization for Migration, OIM. The Mexican Senate estimates that 50-500 thousand people are being trafficked in the country today.
High-class escorts are being murdered as Mexico’s public safety has dipped to its lowest point in a decade—25 people per 100 thousand inhabitants were killed in the first half of 2018. In Mexico City, where most of the Venezuelan escorts live and work, there were 3.3 murders per day during the same time.
The stories about Kenni’s death, however, have enraptured this nation. Young, beautiful high stakes escorts, who charge US$100-200 per hour (in a country where a secretary earns US$300 a month) should have been protected, some observers say.
Kenni’s story hit a popular nerve—a poor girl does well—mirroring the tales enacted in soap operas popular in both Mexico and Venezuela.
Kenni and her murdered colleagues failed to understand the rules regulating
Mexico’s sex trade. Even high-end escorts become the gang’s private
Since early 2006, more than 100 thousand Venezuelans have moved to Mexico to escape the political and economic uncertainty in their home country, according to the United Nations.
Young women like Kenni, who arrive in Mexico to work as sex escorts, are not included in these statistics because they largely apply to migrants seeking residency.
The escort women, however, arrive sponsored by smugglers with connections to immigration officials who provide temporary tourist visas, and even residency for the women after a few years.
From cases tracked for this investigation, the trafficking networks that nab Venezuelan women and girls operate out of Venezuelan regions where Mexican cartels such as the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion, CJNG, a young punkish criminal organization known for its violence and financial acumen, exert control.
The group has taken over territories and drug trade once held by the traditional Sinaloa Cartel, which is in disarray after the arrest of its leader Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman.
The CJNG has a partnership and family ties with the Cuinis, a clan of 18 brothers and sisters who were former Haas avocado growers from Mexico’s Michoacan State, and then turned drug traffickers. The Cuinis have involvement in Venezuela, and in other Latin American cities.
The Cuinis had the business sense to export more European-looking South American women to Mexico for middle-class consumption. Mexican women who have traditionally engaged in sex work come from a more mixed and indigenous local population.
Between 2006 and 2010, three of the Cuinis brothers had their home base in Argentina and Uruguay. Eventually, two of them were arrested in Uruguay and Brazil. The oldest brother, Abigael Gonzalez Valencia, was captured as he vacationed on a yacht in Cancun.
United Nations officials say that another 47 criminal groups are vying for control of the sex trafficking business in Mexico.
The women who end up caught in the sex trafficking networks are recruited by people they know in their hometowns in Venezuela. Some of them have participated in local beauty pageants, a national pastime in Venezuela, so they already have had some plastic surgery, which is the norm for contestants, according to a local analyst. Some Mexican traffickers are now asking former escorts who turn 30 and are considered too old for the trade to work as promoters.
Until recently, most Venezuelan women tracked in this report and trafficked in Mexico came from Maracaibo and Valencia, populous cities with important shipping ports, where Mexican drug traffickers have always had criminal connections. (15) As the trade of smuggling women has burgeoned, Colombian drug cartels have moved into it, transporting women who arrive in the province of Cucuta to Bogota from where they are sent by commercial planes to Mexico and other Latin American countries. (15a) Colombian journalists say the movement of people is under the aegis of the Mexican cartel, CJNG. (Hector de Mauleon)
The women’s sordid stories have reverberated in Venezuela, but they have not had a deterrent impact. With the breakdown of Venezuela’s economy more young women want the chance to travel to other countries to work as anything, including sex work.
The trafficking of young women and girls has become widespread, according to Asociacion Paz Activa, a local NGO that tracks this activity. What is troubling for NGOs that track this criminal enterprise is the involvement of Venezuelan businesses in the flow of women for sex work. The women are approached through modeling agencies, nightclubs, and bars. "They are selected under fake offers," according to Luis Cedeno, director of Paz Activa in Caracas.
In recent reports Paz Activa has alluded that local Venezuelan police and military officers are in the pocket of sex traffickers. In one state, a local mayor was identified by Paz Activa as the leader of a women trafficking network, according to one source.
Beatriz Borges, who earlier this year released a study on women trafficking from Venezuela, said Colombian drug trafficking groups have started moving Venezuelan women as young as 12 years old through Bogota. According to Borges, the trafficking rings have the participation of corrupt immigration officials in both countries. Some of the women end up trafficked to Asia and Eastern Europe.
A Colombian escort who lives in Mexico City and knew Kenni Finol described the path of a sex worker’s life in Mexico City.
First, they ask scouts to identify the women who fit certain requirements in target countries. Then, they seduce them with fancy meals, gifts, and promises of beautiful apartments and private drivers in Mexico. Once the women arrive in Mexico, they get an invoice. Every cent the traffickers spend on them is listed as debt. In the Colombian’s escort case, her account tallied up to several thousand dollars for airfare, clothing and other expenses. They had promised her work in telenovelas and as a model. But she was forced into sex work. She shared a room with six other women from Venezuela and Argentina in a lower middle-class neighborhood. Her movements were controlled by women with links to Zonadivas and related to the Tepito drug Cartel.
According to the Agencia de Investigacion Criminal, a federal investigative unit in Mexico, Tepito has a relationship with the CJNG and controls the illegal sex work in Mexico City and the surrounding area of the State of Mexico. The sex workers like Finol have to pay a fee to Tepito, sell drugs and sometimes keep guns.
A cab driver under Tepito’s control picks the women up at their apartments and drives them to visit clients. The Colombian escort said she serviced several men a day who paid ZonaDivas US$100 an hour. When she returned to the apartment, she would turn over most of the money to the women in charge and just keep a small amount for herself. The traffickers held her passport until she paid off her debt. In the end, she estimates, the traffickers netted about $200 thousand a year in profit.
It took two years of working seven days a week to gain her freedom. Today she is independent and still lives in Mexico City. She is an independent escort. Her time with Zonadivas taught her how to avoid trouble and protect herself. She told a journalist friend she can gross up to US$10 thousand a month. “It is hard work and we have learned to put up with fear and disgust, but where else would I earn this money?” she told the journalist. The woman is now ready to ensnare others in the business. She told a journalist friend she knows a young 18-year-old Colombian who wants to be introduced into the trade.
The phenomenon of the trafficking of Venezuelan women has sprouted throughout Latin America and Europe. Rings have been busted in Spain, Colombia, and Panama. But in Mexico, the trade is insidious because of the violence linked to it and the lack of a legal framework to protect the women. Federal anti-trafficking legislation that sanctions women trafficking exists since 2007, but the legal framework is complicated by competing state laws that often do not sanction sex trafficking. (22)
After Finol’s murder, Mexican police found the YouTube video she created four months before her death. She named Brayan Mauricio Gonzalez, her one-time boyfriend, as the principal suspect.
She filmed herself after he beat her severely in October 2017, breaking an arm and slashing the back of her head with a machete. According to the video, which was widely circulated after her death, he told Finol to stop working as an escort and to leave Mexico. In the video, Finol accuses Brayan of killing an Argentine escort who was also murdered in a third-rate motel in Mexico City in December 2017.
With Pinol’s death, four escorts related to Zonadivas.com were killed between February 2017 and February 2018. The murders and the publicity forced Mexican authorities to shut down the X-rated website. In the process, they arrested two men and a woman working for the outfit. But the owner, Antonio Santoyo Cervantes, remains at large. It is believed he has protection from influential politicians in Mexico City.
According to Mexican police, sicarios like Pozole from the Tepito Cartel canvassed ZonaDivas.com to find foreign women they could date. Police say they have evidence that the sicarios would beat the women and forced them to sell drugs and hide weapons. The women would keep quiet because of fear. Two of the escorts killed in the last year—both Venezuelans - were murdered by another hired killer--sicario--with links to the Tepito cartel.
The website had operated in Mexico since the early 2000s under the name Divas.com. It went underground when another police investigator came close to deciphering the website’s business model, and was ready to make arrests. The police investigator was ambushed and killed in February 2007. Following his murder, the website disappeared. It was reborn in 2014 with another namer, same business: Zonadivas.com.
Jose Nemesio Lugo Felix, a nephew of the legendary Mexican actress Maria Felix, and a high-level Mexican police investigator, with expertise on people and arms trafficking networks, was the investigator who followed Divas.com until his death. His murder was then buzzed over by anonymous remarks from government colleagues who sullied his reputation and told the media he was involved in illegal activities. Family members who have kept a website about his murder refused to talk about his murder. But several entries in a Facebook page under his name show how dangerous were his investigations. A hard-nosed official, Lugo was shadowing the website and its owners. He had a solid case proving how the website’s owners and its financial backers lured young women from South America and enslaved them in sex work.
Lugo was so sure of his investigation and naïve about the official links the website owners could have had, that he gave an interview to the Mexican magazine Proceso, predicting a future shutdown of the site.
Lugo’s investigation was jump-started when Mexican immigration authorities were alerted about dozens of South American women, including Venezuelans, entering the country irregularly with work contracts with the online site. The website had a complicated network of immigration officials who helped it navigate the flow of new arrivals.
Then Lugo was ambushed and gunned down as he drove to his office in downtown Mexico City. His case investigation was shelved after they arrested two sicarios for his murder. But no explanation was given as to the identity of the intellectual author of his murder.
According to one investigator, his murder indicated that the network running ZonaDivas had protectors in the Mexican federal government. Lugo’s murder was never solved. And Divas.com changed its name to ZonaDivas.com and began operations once again in 2011.
The trafficking of Venezuelan women to Mexico has been booming since 2010, as the economy in Venezuela waned and Mexican drug cartels gained more of a foothold in that country’s drug trafficking networks.
In the early years, Venezuelan women were trafficked to Mexican cities like Guadalajara, Ciudad Juarez, on the U.S.-Mexico border, and Monterrey, among others.
Guadalajara, in Jalisco state, a city in western Mexico known for mariachis and tequila, became a special center for voluptuous Venezuelan escorts. Upscale bars and nightclubs began to specialize in Venezuelan girls and women in the early 2010s, according to a local lawyer. It was then that the bar Bandidas, a theme-based establishment on Avenida Lopez Mateo across the street from the Plaza del Sol shopping area in Zapopan, arose to great success.
Bandidas would host cowboy nights, Hawaiian Fiesta nights, and other special events. Venezuelan girls would dress up and dance on top of the bar, ala Coyote Ugly. Every Friday the bar was packed with men drinking tequila and beers as towering young Venezuelans paraded in tiny outfits. A hidden part in the business was the women’s participation in prostitution. In the beginning, it was an elective decision and only those who wanted to have sex with clients would do so, according to one woman who worked at the bar. The women were protected by burly bouncers who milled around the bar.
Local Mexican reporters said the bar was partly owned by former government officials, including a former Guadalajara state attorney, and by Luis Rodriguez Olivera, a drug trafficker and owner of a well-known tequila brand, who was arrested in the U.S. in 2011. By 2012, the rules in Bar Bandidas changed.
Daisy Arenas, a naïve, petite young woman of 23, who came to Mexico to work as a model, was caught in the vagaries. She told her mother Ingrid, who lived in Valencia, Venezuela, that a powerful man she did not like kept sending her flowers. Her messages to her mother were cryptic, so it was hard for the mother to know what was happening.
On December 15, 2012, Daisy was kidnapped by 15 men who pretended to be Mexican federal police. She was pulled from her car, a red Renault, Clio, kicking as she begged for her friends to help her. The other escorts in her car were frozen in fright.
Six days later, her body was found on a dirt road in the outskirts of Guadalajara. She had been shot several times in the head. Her death shocked Mexico. It was still uncommon to have a middle-class foreigner who also happened to be beautiful, murdered in a major city.
Daisy had hoped to launch her modeling career in Guadalajara. In two years, she had worked small jobs at business conventions and beauty contests. Apparently, she was becoming successful. In 2015, a popular banda singer released a video where she is featured as a model.(link to video) However, the deadly cocktail that includes beauty, foreign participation, youth and the involvement of drug trafficking groups, was already turning deadly for Venezuelan women.
Daisy had been recruited to go to Mexico by a Venezuelan former escort she met in Valencia, Venezuela. Victoria Comas was a well-known participant in Valencia’s party circuit. Six other young women also traveled at her invitation with Daisy to Guadalajara. All returned home, except for Daisy. The reason for going to Mexico was the same: their economic situation at home was dire, even in those early days. Daisy’s mother could not work, and she had a handicapped sister.
By the end of 2011, the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion began moving into Guadalajara. Bandidas, where Daisy performed nightly, became the property of that cartel. Daniel Quintero Riestra, a local drug chieftain who oversaw the city’s underworld and business sector came to control the Bar Bandidas. He took a liking to Daisy. He was the man Daisy described to her mom. She was not pleased with Quintero’s attention and it cost her.
Quintero believed Daisy belonged to him because she worked in an establishment in an area he controlled.
Daisy had had premonitions about her death. Weeks before, her mother says she wrote to her to say she wanted to leave Guadalajara because the business had turned dangerous. She had told her mother rough people were involved in the business, and that she did not wish to continue her involvement with Bandidas. However, Mexico was still part of her future. Before her death, she had purchased plane tickets for her mother and handicapped sister to visit her.
Daisy’s mother, Ingrid Arenas, still believes her daughter was a model. Maybe she was, but almost everyone who worked in Bandidas at the time said the sexual encounters came with the territory.
Daisy’s mother has fought for years to find out what happened to her daughter. Within a year of Daisy’s murder, the manager and owner of the Bar Bandidas, Ivan Martinez Macias, was also murdered. Denisse Mateo, another Venezuelan escort and friend of Daisy, was also killed in 2015.
It is believed Mateo gave police information about where to find Quintero, Daisy’s killer. He was arrested lounging on a yacht in the Mexican Caribbean Riviera in 2015.
The bar Bandidas was eventually shut down in 2016.
One night in Guadalajara in late 2015, I visited Bandidas with two other friends. The bar entrance was surveilled by tall, thick-waisted men—narco guys. We arrived during a Hawaiian night, but our waitress seemed to be working under duress. The bar was half empty with only male patrons. Daisy’s murder had hurt the bar’s reputation, and it was a few months before they shut down the establishment. The ambiance inside the night we visited was already tense. Two men appeared to be taking pictures of us while we drank beers. We left after an hour, calling a cab to pick us up and drop us off at a nearby hotel, where we could disappear without tracks.
The next day, I visited the state court of Guadalajara with a local lawyer to talk to a judge about Daisy’s case. In Mexico, it is illegal for journalists to get access to court documents. But Daisy’s killer Quintero had been arrested a few weeks earlier.
When I asked for Daisy’s court file, the court clerk pretended that Daisy’s case log was missing. Only after my lawyer friend said I was a romance novel writer who wanted to read Daisy's case and use it in a story, did the clerk suddenly find the missing documents. The lawyer who accompanied me said the clerk was being paid off by the cartel to identify those who came to find information about the case because it involved a high-level drug trafficker. When I looked at him perplexed, he said it was the only way to get the documents.
The file, which included photos of Daisy’s body in the examination room, was thick. The case conclusion said she had been killed because Daniel Quintero Riestra, head of the Guadalajara Plaza for the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion, believed she belonged to him, and she had misbehaved. Daisy’s mother said Quintero was infatuated with Daisy, and that defined her fate.
The CJNG controls Guadalajara’s high-end escorts and street sex workers the same. In early 2016, I accompanied human rights activists from Brigada Callejera, a group that works with street sex workers in Mexico, to Guadalajara. They were there to visit street sex workers in various neighborhoods.
In one area near downtown Guadalajara, young men apparently from the CJNG started following us. Brigada works with more downtrodden sex workers than escorts. These women stand on street corners or in bars where they earn US$5-10 for 20 minutes. One young woman who stopped our group as we visited a motel where the women gathered, said the CJNG was starting to take over the area and to impose stricter controls. Earlier gang groups had never required these women to pay taxes. CJNG was now demanding 30 percent of their weekly earnings.
Miguel Jose Leone Martinez is a strapping Venezuelan photographer who poses in Facebook and Instagram surrounded by beautiful models and famous Hispanic actors. He shuttles between Miami and Mexico City, according to his Instagram, where he has 30 thousand followers. His most important achievement tracked in the Spanish-language media was his promotion of a short romance between Shannon de Lima, a Venezuelan model, and Marc Anthony's ex-wife, and Saul Hernandez, alias Canelo, the Mexican boxer.
However, in early 2018, Leone Martinez was in the news for a more sordid affair. The U.S. Treasury identified him as a high-class pimp, who recruited beautiful women for Los Cuinis, the drug group linked to the CJNG.
The Leone operation apparently targets more high level, top Venezuelan models. Immediately after the announcement, Shannon de Lima was approached by Miami-based journalists. De Lima is a well-known fixture in Miami's social circuit. She denied any knowledge about Leone's activities, but her romance with boxer Hernandez was cut short.
The U.S. Treasury freezes U.S. financial accounts held by individuals included in the financial crimes list. It also forbids U.S. citizens and companies from doing business with the named suspects. Leone had been on the U.S. radar since 2015 when he was arrested by Mexican police as he vacationed on a yacht with Cuini top leader Abigael Gonzalez Valencia. After a year under arrest, Leone was released without charges by Mexican police. Abigael Gonzalez Valencia remains in a Mexican jail and awaits extradition to the United States.
Leone is originally from the Venezuelan border state of Apure, which is known for clandestine, coca-laden flights to Central America and Mexico. Son of an Italian-Venezuelan small businessman, he left Apure when he was 17 and moved to Caracas.
According to Terlis Finol, Kenni, his sister, was protecting people higher up. When she was killed, she was working in an apartment with several other women who were looking to serve sex for hire. Terlis still dreams his sister would come to see him. His mother visits Kenni's grave three times a week and prays for her at church. "We are three girls and one boy, and she helped us a lot. The situation in the country is pretty bad," says Terlis.
They lose their freedom as soon as they set foot on any Trinidadian beach, and their “original sin” is an alleged debt that these women can only pay by becoming sexual merchandise. They are tamed through a prior process of torture, rotation and terror, until they lose the urge to escape. The growth of these human trafficking networks is so evident that regional and parliamentary reports admit that the complicity of the island’s justice system in this machinery of deceit and violence multiplies the number of victims.
The former chavista governor of the State of Bolívar from 2004 to 2017 changed overnight from excessive media exhibitionism to low profile. His departure to Mexico completed the circle of the retirement plan he had been preparing while on civil service. He was now staying in the same country where the businesses of his daughter's husband flourished, which he had significantly fostered from his positions in Guayana. Now, with financial sanctions imposed on him by Canada and the United States, Francisco José Rangel Gómez prefers to stay under the radar.
A study by Mexican authorities confirms what the palate of the Venezuelans quickly detected: There is something odd in the Mexican canned tuna that comes in the combos of the Local Supply and Production Committee (CLAP). At least three of the brands that the poorest homes have consumed in the country since March 2016, when the state plan was formalized, have high proportions of soy, a vegetable protein that although not harmful, it does not have the same taste and protein contribution of tuna. Behind the addition of soy there is an operation to reduce costs where all the intermediaries, handpicked by the Venezuelan Government to buy the goods, have participated.
Even though there are new brands, a new physical-chemical analysis requested by Armando.Info to UCV researchers shows that the milk powder currently distributed through the Venezuelan Government's food aid program, still has poor nutritional performance that jeopardizes the health of those who consume it. In the meantime, a mysterious supplier manages to monopolize the increasing imports and sales from Mexico to Venezuela.
Mexican authorities blame Venezuelan authorities for not verifying the quality of the products included in the combos for the Local Supply and Production Committee (CLAP). Even though the companies provided false information on the packaging, they wash their hands with bureaucratic technicalities and continue granting export permits. In Venezuela, no official wants to talk about it. For months, the Government of Nicolás Maduro bought and distributed among the poorest several powdered milk brands of the lowest quality.
In Mexico, there is a long tradition of cheating in the supply of dairy products packaged for social programs. Hence, it should not be surprising that the Venezuelan corruption had found in that country the perfect formula to include in the so-called CLAP Boxes a paste purchased at auction price as cow's powdered milk. For a mysterious reason, ghostly or barely known companies are the ones monopolizing purchase orders from Venezuela.
When Vice President Delcy Rodríguez turned to a group of Mexican friends and partners to lessen the new electricity emergency in Venezuela, she laid the foundation stone of a shortcut through which Chavismo and its commercial allies have dodged the sanctions imposed by Washington on PDVSA’s exports of crude oil. Since then, with Alex Saab, Joaquín Leal and Alessandro Bazzoni as key figures, the circuit has spread to some thirty countries to trade other Venezuelan commodities. This is part of the revelations of this joint investigative series between the newspaper El País and Armando.info, developed from a leak of thousands of documents.
Leaked documents on Libre Abordo and the rest of the shady network that Joaquín Leal managed from Mexico, with tentacles reaching 30 countries, ―aimed to trade PDVSA crude oil and other raw materials that the Caracas regime needed to place in international markets in spite of the sanctions― show that the businessman claimed to have the approval of the Mexican government and supplies from Segalmex, an official entity. Beyond this smoking gun, there is evidence that Leal had privileged access to the vice foreign minister for Latin America and the Caribbean, Maximiliano Reyes.
The business structure that Alex Saab had registered in Turkey—revealed in 2018 in an article by Armando.info—was merely a false start for his plans to export Venezuelan coal. Almost simultaneously, the Colombian merchant made contact with his Mexican counterpart, Joaquín Leal, to plot a network that would not only market crude oil from Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, as part of a maneuver to bypass the sanctions imposed by Washington, but would also take charge of a scheme to export coal from the mines of Zulia, in western Venezuela. The dirty play allowed that thousands of tons, valued in millions of dollars, ended up in ports in Mexico and Central America.
As part of their business network based in Mexico, with one foot in Dubai, the two traders devised a way to replace the operation of the large international credit card franchises if they were to abandon the Venezuelan market because of Washington’s sanctions. The developed electronic payment system, “Paquete Alcance,” aimed to get hundreds of millions of dollars in remittances sent by expatriates and use them to finance purchases at CLAP stores.
Scions of different lineages of tycoons in Venezuela, Francisco D’Agostino and Eduardo Cisneros are non-blood relatives. They were also partners for a short time in Elemento Oil & Gas Ltd, a Malta-based company, over which the young Cisneros eventually took full ownership. Elemento was a protagonist in the secret network of Venezuelan crude oil marketing that Joaquín Leal activated from Mexico. However, when it came to imposing sanctions, Washington penalized D’Agostino only… Why?
Through a company registered in Mexico – Consorcio Panamericano de Exportación – with no known trajectory or experience, Joaquín Leal made a daring proposal to the Venezuelan Guyana Corporation to “reactivate” the aluminum industry, paralyzed after March 2019 blackout. The business proposed to pay the power supply of state-owned companies in exchange for payment-in-kind with the metal.