The 35 Club

Since 2013, 35 Venezuelan generals have started dozens of companies, dealing in everything from toys and tourism to food and transportation. Between them, the generals have won hundreds of state contracts, lining their pockets even as most Venezuelans have plunged into desperate poverty.

Their businesses were revealed after OCCRP acquired a cache of internal army documents and cross-referenced it with a registry of companies that received contracts from the government. Additional reporting revealed that, in many cases, these companies were registered at residential addresses or appeared to have no physical offices.

This investigation exposes the lucrative benefits that accrue to senior officials in a country that devolved into rampant cronyism years ago. Analysts say these financial rewards ensured their loyalty to the regime of embattled President Nicolás Maduro as Venezuela’s political and economic situation continued to deteriorate.

The 35 generals are profiled below. OCCRP wrote to all of them seeking comment; only two responded, one briefly. The other, Angelvis Antonio Pérez Rodríguez, explained that the cooperative he held shares in had never even been fully registered, and that he was simply a soldier who did not do business of any sort.

“I am not an entrepreneur,” he wrote. “I am a soldier of the Bolivarian Revolution, the only political project that guarantees the greatest amount of happiness to the heroic people of the RBV [Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela] and collective well-being.” He added, using capital letters for emphasis, “I AM NOT A CORRUPT GENTLEMAN. I AM A SOLDIER WITH ETHICAL AND MORAL VALUES AND PRINCIPLES.”

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Pablo Beltrán Pérez Villamizar

General Pablo Pérez graduated from the Military Academy of Venezuela in 1991. He has served as the director of a military think tank and of the Carlos Arvelo military hospital in Caracas.

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Jesús Emilio Vásquez Quintero

General Jesús Vásquez is the attorney general of the military prosecutor’s office, which has been accused of carrying out a systematic internal crackdown against dissident members of the armed forces and of putting civilians on trial.

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Renier Enrique Urbáez Fermín

General Renier Urbáez, born in 1971, is the president of the Venezuelan armed forces’ Social Security Institute.

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Angelvis Antonio Pérez Rodríguez

Born in 1966, General Angelvis Pérez has held several key positions during his long military career.

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Menry Rafael Fernández Pereira

General Menry Fernández has been close to Venezuela’s Chavista government since its beginnings.

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Robinson José Vera Cumare

General Robinson Vera is the commander of the 92nd Brigade, a unit based in Venezuela’s restive borderlands with Colombia.

Midhat Kapetanović
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Alejandro Ramón Maya Silva

General Alejandro Maya graduated from the Military Academy of Venezuela in 1987, part of a class that would feed the upper echelons of the country’s political establishment.

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John Lerry Porras Colmenares

General John Porras, born in 1965, is an avowed Chavist.

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Carlos Alessandro Cestari Infantini

Though General Carlos Cestari is an active Twitter user, he mainly sticks to retweeting President Nicolas Maduro and Venezuela’s customs and tax agency.

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Jesús Neptalí Alayón Rodríguez

General Alayón graduated from the Military Academy of Venezuela in 1991, subsequently joining several air defense brigades.

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Iván Darío José Lara Lander

General Iván Lara is the director of strategic planning for the Bolivarian Militia.

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Francisco José Martínez Cardona

In addition to his military duties, General Francisco Martínez manages a hotel in Chuspa, a village near Caracas on the Caribbean coast.

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José Gregorio Viña Hernández

While he was still a colonel, in 2012, General José Viña headed a battalion in northern Venezuela that has been accused of committing human rights abuses against indigenous communities.

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Taylor Antonio Rodríguez Cortez

Taylor Rodríguez is a general and an academic, having served as dean at the military’s Universidad Nacional Experimental Politécnica.

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Jesús Rafael Morales León

General Jesús Morales is listed as president and owner of half of Construsum M & M, C.A., a construction company that has received contracts to build classrooms on Venezuela’s main military base, Fuerta Tiuna, in Caracas.

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Gerardo Enrique Merchán Sánchez

General Gerardo Merchán has served as commander of an armored brigade and coordinator of a wholesale market.

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Ernesto Edmundo Pérez Mota

General Ernesto Pérez commands the 321st Caribe Brigade.

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Hernán Akhnaton Noguera Mejía

Hernán Noguera has the dubious distinction of being linked to a company that has received more state contracts than any other army general.

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José Antonio Canchica Pernía

General José Canchica is Venezuela’s military attache at the country’s embassy in the Dominican Republic.

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Luis Santiago Rodríguez González

General Luis Rodríguez is the director of a branch of the police responsible for migration, formerly oversaw security for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and once managed the payroll for the entire Venezuelan military.

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Régulo Antonio Higuera Durante

Based on his loyalty to the Venezuelan government, General Régulo Higuera was selected to participate in the 2007 First Joint Command and General Staff Course in Cuba.

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Wistohor Gregorio Chourio Andrade

General Wistohor Chourio graduated from Venezuela’s military academy in 1990 and is currently the commander of Caracas’ defense zone.

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Guillermo Segundo Barboza Heredia

General Guillermo Barboza, born in 1962, has served as the army’s director of education and as a director of military personnel in the general command.

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Larrin José Rivero García

General Larrin Rivero graduated from the military academy in 1987 and has been deployed to several defense zones.

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Heikel Fidias Gámez

General Heikel Gámez took part in the 1992 Venezuelan coup attempts led by Hugo Chávez and is currently the defense attaché at the the country’s embassy in Ecuador.

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Edgar Enrique Maestre Lobo

General Edgar Maestre has held managing, planning, and budget positions within Venezuela’s Ministry of Defense.

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Freddy Alberto Labarca Rincón

According to his own Twitter account, General Freddy Labarca is "a radical Chávez supporter" who has extended his "loyalty to Nicolás Maduro."

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Jesús Enrique Ramírez Molina

General Jesús Ramírez graduated from the Military Academy of Venezuela in 1990 and was a member of Hugo Chávez’s presidential guard.

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Joel Vicente Canelón

General Joel Canelón has held various military positions.

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Javier Tadeo Benchimol Nuñez

Since 2017, General Javier Benchimol, born in 1966, has been the commander of a defense zone in Zulia State, which is situated on the border with Colombia.

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Óscar José D'Jesús Darnoutt

In his Twitter account, General Óscar D'Jesús describes himself as an electric engineer and communications specialist.

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Francisco Vicente Magdaleno Rodríguez

In July 2017, President Maduro personally awarded General Francisco Megdaleno Rodríguez a Venezuelan flag, making him the Armed Forces’ representative at that year’s International Military Games in Russia.

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César Augusto Figueira Peralta

General César Figueira served in the mechanized infantry brigades, and was tapped in 2015 as the logistics director of the army’s General Command.

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Jesús Rafael Villamizar Gómez

Born in 1971, General Jesús Villamizar’s most important post was securing President Nicolas Maduro’s safety as the head of the Special Presidential Protection and Security Brigade.

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Alexis José Benítez Romero

General Alexis Benítez doesn’t hide his political preferences.

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