A U.S. judge has denied a motion from indicted former Venezuelan Gen. Clíver Antonio Alcalá Cordones to have the U.S. government produce records about his connections to the CIA.
According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), Cordones conspired with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, other top regime officials, and members of Colombia’s Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) to ship cocaine to the United States.
But Cordones surprised observers in January when he not only denied involvement with any narco-terrorism scheme; he said he actually tried to overthrow Maduro’s socialist government—with the blessing of the CIA.
Who is telling the truth in the matter is not clear, as U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein denied Cordones’s motion for the CIA to produce records in his March 17 order. A pretrial conference is set for May 3.
The details of Cordones’s alleged anti-Maduro activities read like a spy novel.
According to the motion, Cordones left Venezuela’s military after Maduro replaced Hugo Chavez in 2013.
“General Alcalá Cordones’s opposition to Maduro soon escalated, and by 2017, with the knowledge of the United States government, General Alcalá Cordones began actively planning his first attempt to remove Maduro and his cronies from office through military intervention,” the motion states. “These were not theoretical debates about democratic change, these were plans for armed insurrection against a regime and its leadership.”
The first such attempt was planned for March 2018, but the Venezuelan government learned of the plan and crushed it. Cordones fled to Colombia, where he would continue to participate in anti-Maduro activities, according to his filing.
On the eve of a second coup attempt in 2020—which failed—Cordones said he was contacted in person by a U.S. law enforcement official, who informed him about the narco-terrorist indictment.
“The agent informed General Alcalá Cordones that he could either board a private jet bound for New York, or be held in a Colombian jail, where he would no doubt be targeted by the Venezuelan intelligence services for assassination,” the motion states. “Left with little choice, General Alcalá Cordones agreed to accompany the agent back to the United States.”
Cordones said he has requested records since November 2021 regarding the U.S. government’s knowledge that he participated in two coup attempts against Maduro. Cordones has received no such records, which is why he said he is seeking a court order for production.
The DOJ opposed Cordones’s motion in a Feb. 8 filing, asking Hellerstein for a protective order that would keep any U.S. government documents about Cordones under wraps. The reason the government wants to keep this information secret is not clear, as the DOJ’s arguments were filed under seal.
Nevertheless, the judge granted DOJ’s request a day later.
“The head of the departments that have control of the classified information described in [government’s motion], after actual personal consideration, have lodged the state secrets privilege with respect to that classified information,” Hellerstein said on Feb. 9.
Cordones’s defense attorneys protested the judge’s order, saying they never had the chance to respond to the DOJ’s request. Hellerstein agreed with the defense attorneys that they should be allowed to respond and vacated his order.
Cordones responded on Feb. 25, urging the judge to schedule a hearing to review the CIA’s records on the former general behind closed doors.
“In an in camera and ex parte conference, the defense would present to the Court detailed information about General Alcalá Cordones’s interactions with the United States government, including with the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) and other intelligence agencies, that is relevant to the allegations in the indictment,” the defense stated.
But despite the defense getting a chance to lodge its argument, Judge Hellerstein’s decision remained unchanged in his March 17 order.
“The government states that it already has made substantial productions of information and has committed to making substantial productions of classified materials,” Hellerstein said yesterday. “I hold that no order compelling additional discovery is warranted at this time.”
Hellerstein also denied Cordones’s sovereign immunity defense because, along with other reasons, the former general wasn’t acting in his capacity as a state official when he allegedly participated in the narco-terrorism scheme.
The DOJ and DEA declined to comment on Cordones’s allegations, while the CIA and Treasury Department have not responded to media inquiries.