Venezuelan ex-general sentenced to over 21 years for helping Colombia’s FARC

By Thomson Reuters Apr 8, 2024 | 11:08 AM

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A former Venezuelan general with close ties to the late leftist president Hugo Chavez was sentenced to 21-2/3 years in prison in the United States on Monday for supplying weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group.

Cliver Alcala, 62, pleaded guilty last June to two counts of providing material support to a terrorist group and illicit transfer of firearms. The United States considered FARC, which disbanded in 2016 as part of a historic peace deal with Colombia’s government, to be a terrorist group.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein handed down the sentence at a hearing in Manhattan federal court.

Alcala is the first to be sentenced of five co-defendants of current Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, who was indicted on “narco-terrorism” charges in 2020. Maduro, a perennial U.S. foe and Chavez protege who has overseen an economic collapse in oil-producing Venezuela, denies the charges.

Federal prosecutors had proposed a 30-year sentence for Alcala.

They argued that in addition to supplying FARC with military-grade weapons, Alcala received millions of dollars in bribes for protecting the group’s cocaine shipments from interference by Venezuela’s military.

Defense lawyers urged Hellerstein to sentence Alcala, who has been detained in New York since his extradition from Colombia in 2020, to no more than six years.

They said Alcala was under Chavez’s command when he aided FARC, and that he denied any involvement in drug trafficking.

Alcala had initially been charged with conspiring with the rebel group to ship cocaine, but did not admit to any drug-related charges as part of his final plea deal.

Alcala’s lawyers urged Hellerstein to consider the former general’s split with Maduro’s government in 2013 and his role in organizing, from neighboring Colombia, an unsuccessful push to oust Maduro in 2020.

Prosecutors said Alcala’s actions since 2013 did not justify leniency.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)