Alex Saab Is Extradited to the U.S.

The impoverished chavista regime spent a fortune trying to avoid it, but it finally happened: a U.S. Department of Justice plane picked up the Colombian businessman from Cape Verde. Where does this leave the Mexico talks?

Photo: Joshua Goodman

Update: the government kicked the table and suspended their participation in the Mexico talks. More details at the end of the post.

FINALLY, after being detained in Cape Verde in June 2020, Colombian businessman Alex Saab, the brains behind the Maduro regime’s system of sanctions-evading imports and exports, was extradited to the U.S. 

Saab is extradited the day after a police squad raided the apartment of the family of Roberto Deniz, the investigative reporter who revealed to the world Saab’s wide array of businesses and influence, via ArmandoInfo, because journalism matters!

Saab—a recurring character in leaks like the Panama and Pandora Papers, wanted by the U.S. under charges of money laundering among others—has been key to allocate chavista fortunes abroad and build CLAP and many other obscure businesses. It’s like a human treasure of strategic information now in the hands of the U.S. 

Months ago, chavismo launched a preventive propaganda campaign for this moment, granting Saab Venezuelan citizenship and making him seem a national hero who saves an entire starving nation from a global economic siege. Extradition will pump the volume. While we were writing this, Maduro’s foreign ministry was publishing a statement denouncing the “kidnapping” of Saab and threatening to leave the Mexico talks.

What we expect in the Political Risk Report team: now that Saab is in the hands of the U.S., Washington increases its leverage against Maduro as long as Saab makes a deal to exchange information, even if the chavista regime had time to reduce its dependency on Saab. We cannot predict how big the impact of Saab confessions will be, but we can count on a man like him preparing a good cache of valuable information as personal insurance in case this happened. It’s reasonable to think that, since June 2020, the Maduro regime could have rearranged some things to keep functioning even with Saab in jail. Anyhow, the financial and propagandistic effort chavismo has put into protecting Saab gives us an idea of how dangerous it is to have him talking to U.S. authorities about the accounts, deals and assets of the chavista elite.

The political ambiance in Venezuela will darken—even more than it already is with the increasing isolation of Guaidó and Voluntad Popular, the Monómeros scandal, the death of General Raúl Baduel and the Financial Times exposé about the EU electoral observers mission. Chavismo will throw a long tantrum and leave the Mexico table for the moment. The regional elections will take place, maybe without serious international observation. But behind all the noise that will explode these days and weeks, the reader should keep in mind that, for chavismo, the need to negotiate could increase. They still need sanctions to be lifted or alleviated.

In this context, we can also expect a new hunt for political prisoners in Venezuela to increase the regime’s leverage, which will sadly push more opposition leaders into exile. Chavismo is getting nervous and this time has reasons to panic. Another strike for the “normalization” agenda.

UPDATE: The government didn’t wait to react. Jorge Rodríguez said chavismo would withdraw from the negotiation with the opposition in Mexico as an act of protest. According to Rodríguez, they fear for Saab’s life. As we’ve mentioned several times before, the government doesn’t have much to gain from these talks, kicking the table is something they were ready to do from day one.