Venezuelan Army General Vladimir Padrino, minister of Defense for the Nicolás Maduro regime, was among the U.S. Department of Justice’s March list of wanted individuals, accused of being part of the Cartel of the Suns’ narcotrafficking and terrorism network.
Padrino controls food distribution and leads 11 of Venezuela’s 32 ministries. He is practically a head of government in the shadows, and he has even managed to outweigh Diosdado Cabello (head of the illegitimate Constituent National Assembly), Mexican newspaper El Universal reported in March 2019.
“The United States, Canada, and the European Union have sanctioned almost 75 percent of the Venezuelan military’s high command,” Rocío San Miguel, head of Venezuelan nongovernmental organization Citizen Control, a security and defense watchdog, told Diálogo.
Padrino not only takes advantage of his position to allow narcotrafficking aircraft to fly over Venezuelan airspace, but has also set up at least 24 companies in the United States and Venezuela through his wife and family members. He also profits from lucrative state contracts, investigative journalism organization Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project said in its April 10 article The General and His Corporate Labyrinth.
“What is surprising is that Padrino has reached this level of recklessness by placing his relatives in formal structures to make them untouchable, laundering illicit money from drug, arms, mineral, and hydrocarbon trafficking,” Jorge Serrano, a scholar at the Center for Higher National Studies in Peru, told Diálogo. “The military officer is the strong man who holds Maduro in power.”
“The minister of Defense has two sides: one as an exemplary and patriotic service member, and the other as a corrupt service member who conducts espionage activities on U.S. soil with the support of Cuban advisers and strategists,” Serrano added. “The Venezuelan intelligence service is totally infiltrated by Cuba.”
Padrino was part of the Chavista government and maintained his loyalty to the regime during the 2002 coup that ousted Hugo Chávez for a few days. He moved up through the ranks until he became Maduro’s right-hand man.
“For several years he has been responsible for supervising the Bolivarian indoctrination in all the vocational trainings, institutions, schools, and universities of the Armed Forces to exert direct control over soldiers,” Serrano said. “Padrino should already be retired, because he has served five years in the Ministry of Defense, but it’s not easy for Maduro to make changes while facing so much fear; he prefers balance in power,” San Miguel added.
Serrano and San Miguel agree that there is no real loyalty and trust among Maduro’s inner circle. “That loyalty is driven by economic profit, not ideology. The senior military leaders are addicted to the economic profits they obtain from the state and its companies,” Serrano said. “It’s not only the high command that fills their pockets with millions of dollars. Corrupt money trickles down to mid-levels in the Armed Forces.”
“This doesn’t impact the National Bolivarian Armed Forces’ true soldiers, so the transition will be decided by Venezuelan service members. They are the key to this process,” San Miguel concluded.