If you were startled by stories of cocaine trafficking by CIA-linked supporters of the contras during the Reagan administration’s war against Nicaragua, sit down before you read this. A federal grand jury recently indicted Venezuelan general Ramon Guillen Davilla on charges of smuggling cocaine here by the ton between 1987 and 1991, while he headed a unit whose mission was drug interdiction in cooperation with the CIA.
Gen. Guillen, whose case begs for a serious investigation into CIA narcotics activities, allegedly shipped some 22 tons of cocaine. The roughly six tons per year place him in a class with Mexican drug lord and former FBI most wanted, Juan Garcia Abrego, who was convicted in October of smuggling seven tons per year.
What was the CIA doing with a thug like Guillen? The Reagan administration, which revitalized the Agency after it had been stripped down by Jimmy Carter, ordered the CIA to establish a narcotics interception program together with Venezuelan authorities. But drug interdiction is the mission of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and in the late ‘80s there was particularly bad blood between the agencies.
Star DEA agent Enrique Camarena Salazar had been murdered in Guadalajara, Mexico, in February 1985 by application of a Phillips-head screwdriver to his skull. The culprits included drug kingpin Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, whose airline was the primary contra supplier, and his partner in heroin smuggling, Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, a major contra donor, according to the DEA. Among their co-conspirators were Mexican politicians on the drug lords’ payroll, and officials of the Mexican Directorate of Federal Security – a later-disbanded agency that worked closely with the CIA.
But all it took was common sense to persuade the DEA’s Caracas agent-in-charge to nix a December 1989 plan by the CIA and Gen. Guillen’s unit to ship a ton of cocaine to the US – purportedly to snare local dealers.
Undaunted, the CIA went over the special agent’s head. But its agents were again rebuffed, this time at DEA headquarters.
Despite the rejection, and a federal statute forbidding importation of illicit drugs without DEA approval, the shipment went through – with CIA authorization.
The CIA has issued no statement regarding Guillen’s November indictment – which is understandable, for the Agency must weigh its words to a public already astir with tales of the contras and cocaine. Especially since, as the Miami Herald noted, Gen. Guillen was once the CIA’s “most trusted man in Venezuela.”
Indeed, the question in certain officials’ minds must be whether Guillen can be trusted not to talk.