Retired Venezuelan general who defied Maduro gets over 21 years in US prison

NEW YORK (AP) — A retired three-star Venezuelan army general who twice tried to mount coups against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was sentenced Monday to over 21 years in prison after he admitted providing weapons to drug-funded rebels.

Cliver Alcalá, 62, of Caracas, Venezuela, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein in Manhattan after pleading guilty last year to charges that he supported a terrorist group and gave weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC — considered by the U.S. to be a foreign terrorist organization.

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Prosecutors had sought a 30-year prison sentence, saying he’d accepted millions of dollars in cocaine-fueled bribes. His lawyers had requested a six-year sentence. Hellerstein ordered him to spend 21 years and eight months in prison.

A courtroom sketch of retired three-star Venezuelan army general Cliver Antonio Alcala Cordones

In this courtroom sketch, retired three-star Venezuelan army general Cliver Alcalá, right, appears in federal court, Jan, 18, 2024, in New York.  (Elizabeth Williams via AP, File)

In a release after the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said Alcalá and his co-conspirators tried to weaponize cocaine by helping the FARC with weapons as tons of drugs were shipped to the United States.

He said Alcalá “corrupted the vital institutions of his own country as he helped the FARC flood this country with cocaine — but no longer. Instead, he will now spend more than two decades in a United States prison.”

Prosecutors said Alcalá started in 2006 to take advantage of his position in the Venezuelan military, where he commanded thousands of heavily armed military officers, to support the FARC’s distribution of tons of U.S. bound cocaine.

Alcalá surrendered in Colombia in 2020 to face an indictment in New York that accused him, Maduro and a dozen other military and political leaders with a sprawling conspiracy to use Venezuela as a launchpad to flood the U.S. with cocaine.

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His lawyers argued in court papers that for years before his arrest their client lived modestly in Colombia in a small rented apartment, an older model car and barely $3,000 in his bank account.

In an interview last month with The Associated Press, Alcalá said he has read more than 200 books behind bars and has reflected on his choices, missteps and regrets while staying in shape with a daily five-mile treadmill run.

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