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US DEA Used Criminals To Spy On, Destabilize Venezuela, Mexico, Bolivia

Reports reveal that the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) used known criminals to spy on and destabilize the left-wing governments in Venezuela, Mexico, and Bolivia.

Numerous reports in major media outlets have documented how the US government has used the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in order to spy on and try to destabilize left-wing governments in Latin America.

DEA meddling schemes have targeted Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro, Bolivia’s former President Evo Morales, and Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

In these scandals, the DEA has collaborated with known criminals, including drug traffickers and money launderers, to launch sting operations against leftist politicians.

DEA Schemes In Venezuela

The Associated Press revealed this February that the DEA “sent undercover operatives into Venezuela to surreptitiously record and build drug-trafficking cases against the country’s leadership”.

Known as Operation Money Badger, it was launched in 2013 with the goal of ensnaring senior Venezuelan officials in corruption scandals.

The AP reported that the DEA “authorized otherwise illicit wire transfers through U.S.-based front companies and bank accounts”. It noted that “Colombian drug traffickers” were involved.

As its informants, the DEA recruited criminals. The AP wrote (emphasis added):

The DEA Miami Field Division’s Group 10 recruited a dream informant: a professional money launderer accused of fleecing $800 million from Venezuela’s foreign currency system through a fraudulent import scheme.

The informant’s illicit activity in Venezuela positioned him to help the DEA collect evidence against the chief target of the unilateral operation: Jose Vielma, an early acolyte of the late Hugo Chávez who in two decades of service to the Bolivarian revolution cycled through a number of top jobs, including trade minister and the head of Venezuela’s IRS.

Venezuela’s sovereign, democratically elected government had expelled the DEA, so this covert operation was a clear violation of Venezuela’s sovereignty. And the US government itself acknowledged that these activities violated international law, the AP reported.

The AP quoted a former DEA official who served in Venezuela who boasted, “We don’t like to say it publicly but we are, in fact, the police of the world”.

Operation Money Badger started under the Barack Obama administration, but was expanded under President Donald Trump.

The Trump administration launched a coup attempt in 2019, pressuring countries around the world to recognize US-appointed coup leader Juan Guaidó as the so-called “interim president” of Venezuela, despite the fact that he had never participated in a presidential election.

The US government imposed several rounds of crushing sanctions and an economic embargo on Venezuela, which devastated the country’s oil industry and starved Caracas of the export revenue it needed to fund social programs and the foreign currency it needed to stabilize its national currency, fueling hyper-inflation.

In 2020, the US government backed an attempted invasion of Venezuela. The attack, known as Operation Gideon, was led by two former US Army special operations commandos.

One of the top Venezuelan coup-plotters involved in the failed invasion later revealed that the putschists had been in touch with the CIA and other US government agencies.

The botched invasion was overseen by a US private security company called Silvercorp, which was based in Florida and run by a former U.S. Army Green Beret commando, Jordan Goudreau.

Goudreau had provided security for Donald Trump’s rallies. And he met with US government officials at Trump’s golf course in Doral, Florida to discuss the plans to invade Venezuela.

For his part, Trump boasted that he tried to “take over” Venezuela and pillage its massive oil reserves.

At a Republican Party convention in 2023, Trump stated, “When I left, Venezuela was ready to collapse. We would have taken it over; we would have gotten to all that oil; it would have been right next door”.

Trump’s neoconservative national security advisor, John Bolton, likewise bragged in a 2022 interview on CNN that he “helped plan coups d’etat” in Venezuela and “other places”.

Meanwhile, US-backed coup leader Juan Guaidó and his accomplices were widely accused of extreme corruption.

Even Guaidó’s erstwhile supporters in Venezuela’s right-wing opposition turned against him, accusing Guaidó and his allies of spending huge sums of humanitarian aid money on expensive nightclubs, hotels, cars, clothes, food, and alcohol.

Guaidó’s coup-plotting allies also used public assets that the US, UK, and EU stole from the Venezuelan government and people in order to pay their enormous legal fees.

DEA Schemes In Bolivia

Venezuela was by no means the only country in Latin America targeted by the DEA for destabilization.

In 2008, Bolivia’s democratically elected socialist president, Evo Morales, expelled the DEA.

Morales was the first ever Indigenous president of a country where the majority of the population is Indigenous.

He accused DEA agents of spying on his government and collaborating with violent right-wing opposition groups.

“There were DEA agents that were doing political espionage … financing criminal groups so that they could act against authorities, even the president”, Morales said, in comments reported by Reuters.

At the time, US officials rejected Morales’ accusations as a crazy conspiracy theory.

But in 2015, the Huffington Post revealed that DEA agents had in fact been spying on Morales and the Bolivian government, as part of an undercover sting called “Operation Naked King”.

To justify its meddling, the DEA misleadingly accused Morales of supporting the drug trade, because he legalized the production of coca, a plant that can be used for non-drug purposes, such as in teas and medicines.

Many poor farmers, especially in the Indigenous-majority areas that Morales was from and represented, relied on producing coca.

Vice News reported in 2016 that, after Morales legalized coca, “there is less violence, less cocaine, and even less coca in Bolivia than there was before”.

Morales blasted the DEA’s double standards, noting that it purchased 45,000 kilos of coca in 1992.

“During our government, the model of the fight against drug trafficking was applauded and recognized by the UN and EU”, Morales tweeted in 2020.

“Now, they submit themselves to the CIA and DEA to benefit the geopolitical interests of the US”, he added, condemning the then government of unelected far-right leader Jeanine Áñez of “submission” and “corruption”.

In 2019, Morales was overthrown in a violent coup d’etat. With US support, an unelected far-right regime came to power, which was led by Christian extremists who systematically discriminated against Bolivia’s Indigenous majority.

Bolivia’s US-backed coup regime also sought to privatize the South American nation’s massive lithium reserves. Bolivia is one of the world’s top producers of lithium, a crucial material needed for battery production.

When a Twitter user criticized billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk in 2020 over his support for the putsch in Bolivia, the oligarch responded, “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it”.

In 2021, Morales stated that, “For the CIA and DEA the so-called ‘war against drugs’ is an excuse to attack progressive and anti-imperialist governments. It is a screen to cover their geopolitical interests”.

The former Bolivian leader, who was spied on and targeted in a sting operation by the DEA, pointed to a similar scandal that had been exposed in Mexico.

DEA Schemes In Mexico

Over decades, the DEA has repeatedly been implicated in illegal espionage operations in sovereign Mexican territory, targeting government officials and politicians, particularly those on the left.

This January, the US media outlet ProPublica published a thinly sourced article alleging, without concrete evidence, that allies of Mexico’s leading left-wing politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) took money from drug cartels to try to help him win the 2006 presidential election.

The report acknowledged, “The investigation did not establish whether López Obrador sanctioned or even knew of the traffickers’ reported donations”.

AMLO later won the 2018 election, and has since been one of the most popular presidents on Earth, governing for five years with consistent support from around two-thirds of the Mexican population, according to the US-based firm Morning Consult.

AMLO blasted the ProPublica article as “vile defamation” and “propaganda”, and he suggested that it sought to influence Mexico’s upcoming 2024 election. The candidate Claudia Sheinbaum, from AMLO’s left-wing Morena party, is leading in all of the polls, by a huge margin.

The ProPublica article offered no tangible evidence, just insinuations trying to link AMLO to organized crime. But it did disclose that, in 2011, on the eve of Mexico’s 2012 elections, “DEA agents proposed a sting in which they would offer $5 million in supposed drug money to operatives working on López Obrador’s second presidential campaign”.

That is to say, the DEA was blatantly meddling in Mexico’s internal politics to harm the left-wing candidate, as a presidential election soon approached.

ProPublica also admitted that US “Justice Department officials closed the investigation, in part over concerns that even a successful prosecution would be viewed by Mexicans as egregious American meddling in their politics”.

Mexico-based US journalist Kurt Hackbarth noted that the “only real revelation in this week’s ProPublica piece is the DEA’s plot to frame the AMLO campaign in the runup to the 2012 election”.

“Unlike Russiagate, here’s a bonafide attempt to intervene in a foreign election, freely admitted to”, he added.

In a follow-up Twitter thread, Hackbarth emphasized, “Let’s take a second and appreciate the implications of this. At the precise time Felipe Calderón’s Security Minister Genero García Luna was colluding with the Sinaloa Cartel – which the DEA saw and heard no evil about – they were instead focused on this stupid sting op on AMLO”.

Calderón, a conservative former president from Mexico’s right-wing PAN party, was a close US ally, so faced no serious consequences for his documented links to drug cartels.

AMLO, on the other hand, is an independent left-wing leader who has routinely criticized the US for violating his country’s sovereignty.

In 2023, the Mexican president sent the Joe Biden administration a letter formally condemning US “interventionism” in his country. Specifically, AMLO noted that USAID was funding right-wing opposition groups.

In another speech that year, AMLO condemned State Department criticism as hypocritical “meddling” and stated, “There is more democracy today in Mexico than in the United States… because here the people govern, and there the oligarchy govern”.

AMLO likewise held a huge rally in which he denounced Republicans Congress members who have called for the US military to invade their southern neighbor. While honoring the Mexican state’s nationalization of the country’s large oil and lithium reserves, AMLO declared, “Mexico is an independent and free country, not a US colony or protectorate!”

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