Two US citizens arrived in Venezuela this year on closed dates, and both were left in prison to face terrorism charges. Since then, their destinations began to diverge. Deportation is expected for one of them; a long season in Venezuelan dungeons for the other. But, above all, it is an exercise to test the definitions of 'terrorism' and 'news' for the propaganda apparatus of the chavista government, archrival of Washington. While the capture of one of them deserved a press conference by the Minister of Interior, the other went unnoticed. Why? Who is who in these parallel stories?
Two men with the same nationality, American, stepped on Venezuelan soil for different reasons, and ended up with their bones in jail. One arrived on June 11 directly from the United States, on a commercial flight to meet again with his native conquest, which he met on the Internet. The other, nobody knows from where or when he arrived, maybe by land from Brazil and perhaps to hide from the authorities, which he evaded for almost 20 years. One, with no criminal record, appeared in all state media and his case even deserved a national radio and television network by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Justice, and Peace; the other, with two Interpol arrest warrants, did not have space in the national media.
Joshua Holt, born in Utah, USA, 24 years ago, provisionally lived in Ciudad Caribia, the housing complex devised by President Hugo Chávez in 2006, close to the Caracas-La Guaira highway, on the way to the Simón Bolívar international airport in the state of Vargas. On June 30, he was surprised while in bed by the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) in a People’s Liberation Operation (OLP), the twenty-third security plan implemented by the governments of the self-styled Bolivarian Revolution to end the insecurity that mortifies the Venezuelan people. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, he was caught in flagrante.
Based on another version, he was taken from his bed in his underwear, and when facing what he considered as police abuse, he tried to record his own arrest with his cell phone. "I know my rights," he repeated. In that same version, the agents, realizing where the surprised man was from, decided to arrest him. A kind of booty about which they boasted in all public media, with the Minister of Internal Affairs, Justice and Peace, the today dismissed Major General Gustavo González Lopez, as spokesman. They let him get dressed and detained him together with the woman with whom he had just married, Thamara Belén Caleño, of Ecuadorian origin, but a naturalized Venezuelan.
On February 3, 2016, a traveler dressed in an orange robe, long gray hair, skinny, tall, and with pale skin, was about to travel from the Jacinto Lara airport in Barquisimeto (State of Lara, west central Venezuela) bound for Caracas. At the check-in desk, something caught the attention of the airline workers: false identification and two Interpol alerts. A man with three names, Robert Caring, Niels Christian Nielsen and Robert Dean Child; two declared professions: writer and professor; and a past that goes back to 1995, in the distant population of Purulia, in the region of West Bengal (India).
The American, born in Pennsylvania in 1953, has several US passports and a foreigner card from Brazil. He has been sought by India since January 10, 1996, and has two international red notices, one from December 1, 1997, and another one from February 18, 2016, both, under accusations of drug trafficking, gun smuggling, money laundering, and terrorism.
Holt, a missionary Mormon, stop being in mission to be a parishioner of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In his effort to better understand the Latin American communities he attended, he tried to learn Spanish online. And on that path, he found Thamara Caleño. The digital interaction gave way to a personal encounter in the Dominican Republic. Then they planned to go to the United States of America together and get married, prior request of the "K visa", which allows the future spouse of the US citizen to speed up the paperwork and obtain the papers. He arrived in Caracas on June 11. Something happened on the way, perhaps the rush for marital life that led Joshua and Thamara to marry in Venezuela, which meant that they should continue waiting for another five months in the country to travel and comply with the US administrative procedures.
The communal utopia of Ciudad Caribia lies in a huge set of tall buildings, in the middle of nowhere on the way from Caracas to La Guaira. To reach its high plateau, you have to turn off on a curvy road, with empty surroundings. There are some services, such as a basic medical center, a grocery store, a primary school and court premises, all state agencies. There are also informal shops that publicize themselves on the bars of the houses with handwritten posters, like "We have ice cream." In the few bus stops, people crowd waiting for transportation.
The mission of the People’s Liberation Operation (OLP) —campaign of armed takeovers of popular neighborhoods by state law enforcement agencies to submit organized crime groups that have strengthened within them— was developed in Ciudad Caribia during the early morning of June 30. The National Guard was not there longer than necessary, until they returned to take the area, a day after the then Minister of Internal Affairs, Justice, and Peace appeared on the state channel to talk about the capture of El gringo, as they nicknamed Holt. On July 21, at the entrance of the building blocks, a helicopter, armored cars and dozens of soldiers were still in the neighborhood. "We cannot say what we are doing here, but it is preventive," said one of the military commanders. Among the entities present were the Anti-kidnapping Unit of the Venezuelan Investigative and Criminal Police Corps (CICPC, Auxiliary Police Force of the Prosecutor's Office).
That day, few wanted to talk about Holt's case. Those who talk, refer more to Thamara, his wife, who "did not mess with anyone, was a hard worker and one of the pioneers of Ciudad Caribia," says a neighbor who asked to remain anonymous. About Joshua Holt, "We saw him around here. We knew he was the husband, but we barely know him and I cannot say if he's a good or a bad guy". After all, he was a newcomer.
The first inhabitants arrived in 2011 to the valley chosen by Chávez. They were some of the victims who lost their homes in the heavy rains of late 2010. Thamara, along with her mother and sisters, was one of them, and soon began working as a cleaner in the Integral Diagnostic Center (CDI) of the area. "I cannot complain about her as a worker, and she is an excellent person. I do not know what could have happened, "says one of the staff managers of the CDI, who prefers not to give her name, "They do not let us give statements."
Robert Caring's situation in Venezuela was very different from Holt's. According to court documents, he does not have any credentials, but he does have an address, in the country.
After climbing a steep, long street, with nobody around even though the route is taken in broad daylight, and it is marked by big houses, some with front garden, you reach the house named Prout. At the corner of calle Terepaima con Mosén Sol, in El Marqués, a middle-class area in the northeast of Caracas, in front of a half-done and abandoned security gate, is this huge house with a Venezuelan flag, accompanied by a purple flag with the globe on the center. On its balcony, a large poster with the name Prout, acronym for Progressive Utilization Theory, a socio-economic theory born in India in the 60's with the support of philosopher Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, aimed to overcome the limitations of capitalism and communism, both paradigmatic and conflicting epoch-making economic theories. Based the records of the Supreme Court of Justice, Robert Caring was staying in this research center.
Nobody answers the bell. Nobody answers the phone, neither the inhabitants of the house next door. There is no indication that there was an international terrorist in that area. It seems that time has stopped in this center that seeks the construction of a better world and that is opposed to corruption, the violation of Human Rights or "the economic rules that adversely impact communities, national governments and entire regions of the world ", as stated on its website. But, if they gave shelter to Robert Caring, they may have contravened their own rules.
On April 11, the body of Omar Jesús Molina Marín, candidate for deputy for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV, the government party) was found in Ciudad Caribia. He was murdered. The OLP of the dawn on June 30 was aimed to dismantle the Los Sindicalistas paramilitary criminal gang, which according to the investigators, were responsible for the murder of the political leader. On the way, they met Joshua Holt and detained him "for possession of weapons of war, high-caliber munitions, strategic maps of the city, and computer equipment that would be used to execute terrorist actions."
The press conference of the then Minister of Internal Affairs, Justice, and Peace, Gustavo González López, set out to demonstrate the official hypothesis: "Under different facades, the US services seek to achieve objectives of the Non-Conventional War through interventionist actions, and they promote the formation of criminal paramilitary bands to displace the goals achieved by the Revolution."
González López said that Caleño and Holt had "a strange and suspicious relationship on the Internet", that she had left the country several times financed by him and that their marriage was solemnized with irregularities. Regarding this matter, the Mayor’s Office of Sucre said that both met all the requirements provided by law. The former minister also said that he was "a trained gunman, specialized in the use of new technologies, evidence in social networks, and worship of guns, typical of the culture imposed on a large part of Americans, where terrorist acts are common."
On the night of December 17 to 18, 1995, a plane was flying over Purulia, about 300 kilometers from Calcutta, the capital of West Bengal. Something did not go as planned and, in addition to the parachuted load full of weapons, the plane fell. The next day, the Indian authorities found the plane, and inside, there were 9 mm pistols, Dragon assault rifles, night vision devices, telescopic sights and ammunition, all brought from Bulgaria, according to the Government of India. But no sign of the organizer of the shipment, the real Niels Christian Nielsen, a.k.a. Kim Peter Davy, or the owner of the plane, Robert Caring.
Davy escaped with Caring's help. They crossed the Indian-Nepalese border after passing through Mumbai, without leaving India legally, according to the Indian newspaper The Telegraph. From there, they went to Thailand, and it is known that Caring then flew from Singapore to Brazil, where he resided. No one knows how he got from there to Venezuela, whether it was on a commercial flight or by land.
India has requested the arrest of Caring since January 10, 1996, but it was in January 1997 when the first Interpol red notification warned the following: "He may be armed, and may be using other identities." And in addition to the aforementioned charges, he is accused of smuggling gold and other goods from Asia and Africa, trade of computer parts and electronic items. Kim Davy, the ringleader of the Purulia shipment of weapons "for terrorist uses," is related to three people convicted in the 1980s for planting a bomb in Sidney, S. Forder a.k.a. Dhuba, Mrs Singh and David O'Hee. The Indian authorities know that Davy went through Rotterdam, Orebro (Sweden) and Sao Paulo, where he was seen with Caring.
The last thing known about Davy was when he gave an interview to Times Now of India in 2011, which does not specify the place where it was made, whether it was face-to-face or by telephone. Caring's colleague speaks at the risk of being extradited as a terrorist, "I do not consider myself a terrorist. I do not feel that I have harmed anyone. I wanted to protect people from communism in the area." He said that the arms were for the legal defense of the people of Purulia against the Communist Party of India, and that the Indian intelligence, the RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) and the British MI5 were behind. "There was a former intelligence agent inside the plane. They [the Indian authorities] knew about the plan, the cargo on board, the landing area of ??the cargo..."
It was a whole international plot, documented in the media, even confessed by its protagonists. Despite the seriousness of the accusations, if requested internationally, Robert Caring - or Nielsen or Dean Child - did not deserve a mention in the presidential network, nor a speech by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Justice, and Peace. His case was heard after the journalist from the source of events, Altagracia Anzola, received a tip-off from her sources in Lara; information barely retweeted a few times and that few national media replicated in their digital versions.
Regarding Holt, the minister said that he belonged to a paramilitary criminal group "with the support of extreme right groups in the country." Nicolás Maduro talked about him, the Últimas Noticias newspaper issue the press release between its pages with the headline Paraco Joshua Holt "had links with institutions and political figures". The Misión Verdad [Mission Truth] website dedicated extensive lines to the case.
Caring is waiting to be extradited to India. While these lines are written, Holt expects a final accusation between the walls of the Helicoide.
Adrián Perdomo Mata has just entered the list of sanctioned entities of the US Department of the Treasury, as president of Minerven, the state company in charge of exploring, exporting and processing precious metals, particularly gold from the Guayana mines. His arrival in office coincided with the boom in exports of Venezuelan gold to new destinations, like Turkey, to finance food imports. Behind these secretive operations is the shadow of Alex Saab and Álvaro Pulido, the main beneficiaries of the sales of food for the Local Supply and Production Committee (Clap). Perdomo worked with them before Nicolás Maduro placed him in charge of the Venezuelan gold.
Gassan Salama, a Palestinian-cause activist, born in Colombia and naturalized Panamanian, frequently posts messages supporting the Cuban and Bolivarian revolutions on his social media accounts. But that leaning is not the main sign to doubt his impartiality as an observer of the elections in Venezuela, a role he played in the contested elections whereby Nicolás Maduro ratified himself as president. In fact, Salama, an entrepreneur and politician who has carried out controversial searches for submarine wrecks in Caribbean waters, found his true treasure in the main social aid and control program of Chavismo, the Clap, for which he receives millions of euros.
While the key role of Colombian entrepreneurs Alex Saab Morán and Álvaro Pulido Vargas in the import scheme of Nicolás Maduro’s Government program has come to light, almost nothing has been said about the participation of the traders who act as suppliers from Mexico. These are economic groups that, even before doing business with Venezuela, were not alien to public controversy.
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.
Turkey and the coastal emirates of the Arabian Peninsula are now the homes of companies that supply the main social -and clientelist- program of the Government of Venezuela. Although the move from Mexico and Hong Kong, seems geographically epic, the companies has not changed hands. They are still owned by Colombian entrepreneurs Alex Nain Saab Morán and Álvaro Pulido Vargas, who control since 2016 a good part of the Import of food financed with public funds. Around the world for a business.
Since the borders to Colombia and Brazil are packed and there is minimal access to foreign currency to reach other desirable destinations, crossing to Trinidad and Tobago is one of the most accessible routes for those in distress seeking to flee Venezuela. Relocating them is the business of the 'coyotes' who are based in the states of Sucre or Delta Amacuro, while cheating them is that of the boatmen, fishermen, smugglers and security forces that haunt them.
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.