It’s been a while since Venezuela’s anti-narcotics organisms have been having their alarms ringing. Now that the drug has been connected once again to the Bolivarian Government elites, it’s good to remember that the main airport in Caracas served as an aerial bridge for the largest Cartel in the hemisphere, the Chapo Guzmán’s. And it did it, surprising as it is, next to the presidential hangar.
(*) This reportage was originally published on June 16th 2013 on the journal El Universal.
A DC-9 plane coming from Venezuela appeared as a touristic charter, but on April 10th 2006 it landed on the southern shores of Mexico not precisely with passengers in shorts and beach wear, but with 128 suitcases packed with cocaine. Although the scandal diluted itself after the Government denied that the drugs were loaded in the country, some documents filed on Mexican courts expose that drug trafficking cells used the Simón Bolívar International Airport on Maiquetía as an air bridge on this and other occasions.
The then president of the National Anti-Drugs Office, Luis Correa, assured that the felony wasn’t committed on Maiquetía. “I cannot say if the plane landed on Colombia, Panama or any other place, but we have hard evidence that it took off empty from Venezuela”, he pointed out on April 25th 2006, two weeks after the incident.
What Correa didn’t say was that behind this operation was no less than the Sinaloa Cartel. Since then nor this or any other Venezuelan functionary has noticed that the biggest criminal organization in Mexico had infiltrated the Maiquetía Airport, and not even once or twice…
This information comes from a sentence dictated by the Mexican State’s Fifth Court on Federal Criminal Proceedings on June 23rd 2009, and which details are known now that the Mexican State made them public by a request made for this journalistic work.
According to that document, several of the planes that were mentioned during the trial as part of the Sinaloa Cartel’s fleet, match with the acronyms and characteristics of a series of aircrafts that, during the years 2005 and 2006, came and went without problems by the most important airport in the country.
The official story states that a DC-9 airship with an American flag proceeding from Venezuela with the N900SA acronym was detained with more than 5 tons of drugs on the airport of Ciudad del Carmen, where another suspicious Falcon 20 plane with the XB-IYK acronym was parked on the opposite hangar waiting for the 128 suitcases, so it could continue with the journey which final destination was the United States.
The drug suitcases journey ended when the Mexican authorities detained several crew members from both airplanes. Nevertheless, there was no one anywhere who would realize that the second plane – the Falcon 20 that would wait for the suitcases in Mexico – was seen around Maiquetía Airport on other occasions. And no other than in the same seventh ramp from the auxiliary terminal where the famous 128 suitcases scandal started.
On 2006 the Government guaranteed that the 5,5 tons of cocaine where not loaded on Maiquetía or anywhere else in Venezuelan territory. But anyhow, the same players related to the Sinaloa Cartel used the same airstrip, hangar and air terminal, at least twice, to park the other airplane involved in the biggest drug trafficking case that is remembered on any airport in the region.
It is stated on the International Take-off and Landing Permits stored in the International Maiquetía Airport Institute. According to some filed forms dated November 2nd 2005 and February 10th 2006, the Falcon 20 that would continue its journey from Mexico carrying the suitcases had also entered and departed Maiquetía using the name of the Mexican Raúl Jiménez Alfaro, who turned out to be Fernando Blengio, better known as one of the pilots of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo Guzmán”, the most wanted drug dealer in Mexico.
After a legal process in Mexico that allows to ask for information through mechanisms established by the Federal Law for Transparency and Access to Public Information, now it’s clear that Chapo Guzmán’s pilot spent periods of time working in Caracas under the name of Raúl Jiménez Alfaro.
“I phoned Raúl Jiménez Alfaro from the office to Venezuela because he traveled there a lot”, declared one of the Mexican aeronautic inspectors that were summoned to collaborate on the trial and that later and without knowing it ended up confirming, by a photo of the subject shown to him, that he was talking about Chapo Guzmán’s pilot: “I identify him as Raúl Jiménez Alfaro and after listening to remarks made on this case I learn that he answers to the name of Fernando Blengio Ceseña and I have just heard comments saying that he is Blengio.”
The already famous 128 drug stuffed suitcases are just the slip from a drug trafficking net that made use of some of the most important airport facilities in the country. Although the Venezuelan prosecutors limited themselves to investigate three employees in Maiquetía, the Mexican Justice System concluded that “the activities developed on this case related to the illegal cocaine traffic and transport came from Venezuela by air for its distribution and transport to the border with the United States of America”.
The drugs route was drawn in Mexico and even in the United States where Chapo Guzmán’s pilot was sentenced to 13 years in prison and another 5 years of supervised release for using American airplanes for drug trafficking.
Blengio was arrested in Dominican Republic on 2011 and from there he was transferred to a court in Florida’s South District. However, his detention was unnoticed because he had changed his name again, just like in Maiquetía.
At the beginning of the trial, prosecutor Andrea Hoffman didn’t realize that she had introduced him with one of his nicknames, but anyhow there was no lack of words to describe all the trickery that him and other drug dealers have been employing on this part of the world.
“There’s a handmade industry in the United States that is faking American airplane registers and using them for drug trafficking outside the country” said the prosecutor on November 29th 2011 on one of the hearings where she presented Blengio to judge Patricia Seitz. “The longest routes in the world right now are boarding in a zone called Apure in Venezuela. The drug dealers fly from there to the outskirts of the Colombian air space where they go to Honduras and Guatemala”.
(*) You can read the first part of this reportage on El Universal
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