CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The powerful head of Venezuela's congress moved Wednesday to distance himself from a bodyguard who defected to the United States and reportedly has implicated his former boss as head of drug ring of political and military officials.
National Assembly chief Diosdado Cabello, who has denied the drug allegation, told Blu Radio of Colombia that former bodyguard Leamsy Salazar was never his head of security, as had been reported.
He acknowledged that Salazar worked for him, but added, "They want the world to understand that he was the person closest to me. It's a lie, a lie."
The newspapers ABC of Spain and the Miami-based El Nuevo Herald reported this week that Salazar had gone to the U.S. and was cooperating in a prosecution that would name Cabello as head of a drug ring.
President Nicolas Maduro called the episode part of an imperialist plot, and loyalist Venezuelan Congressman Pedro Carreno, speaking on behalf of the governing party, called the accusations "a new action by the reactionary right" aimed at overturning socialism in Venezuela.
Carreno said Tuesday that Salazar "deserted from the armed forces in December and appeared in the United States as a protected witness to defame, slander and submit (Cabello) to public ridicule."
Cabello added that he began to suspect Salazar last June, when the bodyguard began avoiding looking him in the face, though it wasn't until December that he deserted "to hand over his dignity to North American imperialism."
Cabello is the second most powerful figure in Venezuela's ruling party, after President Nicolas Maduro.
In Washington, William Brownfield, the State Department's top anti-narcotics official, said Tuesday that he would not confirm or deny the reports But he said there is significant evidence that some members of the Venezuelan government have been corrupted by trafficking organizations and said the report naming Leamsy Salazar "is not inconsistent with that narrative."
The U.S. has long accused top Venezuelan political and military leaders of complicity in the drug trade. In July, former Venezuelan military intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal was arrested in Aruba on a U.S. warrant. Venezuela was ultimately able to use diplomatic wrangling to have him set free.
On Wednesday, Cabello said supporters of Venezuela's revolutionary movement are used to this kind of outrage and indignity, but "our conscience is completely clear."