Caribbean internal security intelligence officials observe the military profession evolving in a turbulent age. Political powers resort to objective control as the optimum form of civil-military relations. Such civilian mechanism often achieves its objective by maximizing the military’s professionalism, technical assets and strict disciplinary code to enforce government autonomy.
An ideal regional example is Venezuela where today military support is crucial to continued retention of national power. The Venezuelan President recruited sixteen of thirty-two government ministers from the military’s officer corps. On Wednesday June 21, 2017 he appointed new Vice Presidents. Since the metaphorical “neck-lock” on Venezuela’s government, applied by ongoing political and economic crisis, the President has given the military complete control of importation and distribution of basic food and medicines.
Caribbean internal security analysts observe trends that indicate such politically delegated power has facilitated Venezuelan military contraband and illegal activity expansion. Reports suggest sugar and flour are Venezuela’s most demanded items. For a percentage of the product’s value moonlighting soldiers accompany trucks through a network of checkpoints. Six Venezuelan bakery owners complained under conditions of anonymity that they are frequently approached by military officials with offers to provide supplies for payola.
Unauthorized sales of subsidized government fuel, routinely smuggled across the shared Venezuela/Colombia border by rogue soldiers. Illegal weapons and ammunition trafficked to Trinidad & Tobago, just six hundred and seventy miles away, then filtered to CARICOM islands. A 2016 report informed about Venezuela’s military inclusion of food items with cocaine trafficking, household items retailing at one hundred times the established government prices.
One South American entrepreneur verified he paid US$8 million worth of bribes to the General appointed as Food Minister and other officials for lucrative contracts. Business was conducted as Venezuela’s hunger crisis worsened. Bank documents from 2012 to 2015 confirmed US$131 million personally received by the General. In their white-collar crime scheme the South American businessman added a huge profit margin to invoices sent to Venezuela’s Food Minister. He charged more than double market price for one yellow corn contract worth US$52 million. The General received over US$20 million as Food Minister from that deal alone.
Venezuela Food Ministry’s annual report reflected significant over-payments compared to market prices. Rates government pay for imported foods increased while food prices remained stable. In July 2016 Venezuela’s powers-that-be budgeted US$118 million for yellow corn that cost US$357 per ton, an illegal US$50 million over-payment siphoned. Caribbean internal security analysis considers Venezuela’s long history of insurrections.
Several high-level officials have been detained for conspiracy to overthrow the President, a political tactic that temporally drained rebellious feelings from the minds of Venezuelan military personnel. The gerrymandering also allowed soldiers to continue feeding their families. In 2014 one reassigned General presented the Venezuelan President with a list of three hundred companies suspected of pocketing cheap American dollars. The cash was obtained with special licenses but no product ever purchased. Venezuela’s administration took no action to police the multi-million dollar fraud.
Recent demonstrations of military fragmentation have publicly exposed other kinks in Venezuela’s internal security apparatus and the President’s armor. On Monday August 7, 2017 Venezuelan authorities suppressed a military rebellion near the central city of Valencia. Rebels described as “terrorists” attempted to steal weapons from a military base in Naguanagua city, Venezuelan internal security operatives detaining seven people after the attack.
A year ago on Saturday August 6, 2016 a uniformed Bolivarian Guard, displaying Captain rank insignia, released a threatening video clip staged in Carabobo state. Footage depicted armed men, shown in the picture above, assembled and chorusing “murderous tyranny.” The Captain urged Venezuelans and political opposition viewers to rise up and unite for restoration of “constitutional order.”
Caribbean internal security intelligence analysis considers another recent Venezuelan security scenario where twenty gunmen, domestically classified as “notorious soldiers,” attacked a military base located in Paramacay, Valencia City. For three hours the gunmen engaged soldiers in a shoot-out, before escaping with a quantity of stolen military firearms. Other exhibited signs of dissent, between enlisted soldiers and officer corps, show dissatisfaction with shared illegal spoils. Evidence also suggest military elites benefit most from Venezuela’s criminal schemes via systematic pilfering.
The General as Food Minister issued a US$4.6 million contract to Atlas Systems International, registered in Panama as a shell company. J.A Comercio de Generos Alimenticios, located at a bogus address in an industrial city near Sao Paulo, Brazil, is another Venezuelan government supplier with a lucrative Food Minister’s agreement. In 2012 and 2013 the two companies collectively transferred over US$5.5 million to a private Geneva bank account. Financial records noted the Venezuelan military elite’s brother-in-law and a co-conspirator as joint operators of the Swiss account.
Ricardo Swire is the Principal Consultant at R-L-H Security Consultants & Business Support Services and writes on a number of important issues.