On Tuesday, Venezuelan authorities discovered and seized 19 assault weapons, 118 ammunition cartridges, and 90 military-grade radio antennas that arrived at the international airport in Valencia from Miami. North Carolina-based air freight operation 21 Air LLC operates the aircraft that was used for the arms transfer.
Steffan Watkins, analyst of unusual logistics patterns, drew attention to the 21 Air LLC flights in a Twitter thread on Wednesday. “All year, they were flying between Philadelphia and Miami and all over the place, but all continental U.S.,” Watkins told McClatchy DC in a telephone interview. “Then all of a sudden in January, things changed.” Since mid-January, he airline has made nearly 40 round-trip flights from Miami to Venezuela and Colombia.
“This materiel was destined for criminal groups and terrorist actions in the country,” the nation’s Vice Minister of Citizen Security Endes Palencia Ortiz said, “financed by the fascist extreme right and the government of the United States.” This claim is not without precedent: if a U.S. agency were attempting to back a Venezuelan resistance movement with weaponry, it would come as no surprise to most historians.
The CIA infamously operated dummy airline Air America during the Vietnam War in order to avoid Geneva Accord flight restrictions, and surreptitiously supply weapons to anti-communist forces in Indochina, profitably smuggling drugs on return flights. Later, under Reagan, leaks would reveal arms sales to the Iranian government in order to fund the right-wing contra movement in Nicaragua against the democratic socialist Sandinista government. The Sandinista soldiers’ shooting down a plane in 1986 would confirm the CIA-backing of arms runs into the Latin American country.
A week ago, while announcing fresh economic sanctions against Venezuela that would further cripple the suffering country, National Security Advisor John Bolton accidentally revealed a legal pad with the note “5,000 troops to Colombia”. And—even more surreptitiously, last month saw an announcement that Elliott Abrams, a key figure in the Reagan administration’s neoconservative support of the contras, was named as Trump’s special envoy to Venezuela.
While the provenance of the delivered weapons may not be immediately evident, it’s not hard to read the writing on the wall. Or in this case, the writing on Bolton’s notepad.