The hero who helped bring down the “queen of the skies”

Major Jesús Romero, of Venezuelan origin, was an expert witness in the East Texas federal criminal case against Debra Lynn Mercer, president of Aircraft Guaranty LLC, an Oklahoma-based company that would have provided services for Mexican and Colombian-Venezuelan cartels with high-performance executive jets to transport cocaine from Venezuela and Colombia to the US.

The drug trail highlights links with narco-states, raises hypotheses and creates, in the same way, the urgency to inform and not distort the facts.

Debra Lynn Mercer-Erwin was sentenced to 60 years by an Oklahoma City jury for money laundering, fraud and conspiracy to produce and distribute cocaine, as part of the drug jet scandal.

Exclusively with DIARIO LAS AMERICAS, Jesús Romero, with a marked equanimity, delves into memories while talking to leave testimony of his life story and his ideas.

Romero retired after more than 37 years of combined service in the United States government. He began his career in the United States Navy in 1984 as a sailor, serving aboard the nuclear cruiser USS South Carolina CGN 37 and the amphibious support ship USS Tortuga LSD 46. Throughout his career, he specialized in intelligence naval.

“At the beginning of the 1980s I was studying between the US and Venezuela – he comments – but in ’84 we had to return to the US due to the loss of the bolivar against the dollar. I decided to enroll in military service. For me it was a simple step to go to the military offices that were recruiting. I knocked on all the doors, but only one was open, the one at the Naval Navy. They accepted me a month later. My basic training was in Orlando between 1984 and 1985, the year when I was available on a nuclear cruiser,” she declared.

Although attached to his roots as he himself notes, the assignments themselves consolidated his knowledge and understanding of the functioning of the countries of the Western Hemisphere.

“When I became an officer, I had the opportunity to go to an aircraft carrier and understand the geopolitics of the world, even though I had a very good understanding of Latin America,” he noted.

“I was in the Atlantic Intelligence Command. The topic of focus for us was Cuba (due to the interest of its political and ideological influence in the region). I was able to internalize the danger that Cuba represents for the hemisphere. Cuba represents a threat to the US because communism is real. Cuba is a virus that spreads like cancer throughout the region. People are extremely ignorant, especially in Latin American countries where people succumb to need and want someone to give them a refrigerator, a stove or a little money for school. When you combine that need with corruption you have a real disaster. Cuba is an example, Venezuela another. We always knew that there was a link between the Cuban government and drug traffickers. We already knew that Carlos Lehder (drug trafficker of Colombian-German origin, who served a 33-year sentence in the US; he was the first Colombian drug trafficker extradited to the US, one of Pablo Escobar’s closest associates in the Medellín cartel) had negotiated an entrance through the island to take their drug-laden planes to the Bahamas. Lehder now confirms the beliefs we had at that time,” he emphasized.

It is necessary to emphasize that the former boss of the Medellín Cartel, Carlos Lehder, recently revealed what his meeting with the dictator Raúl Castro was like on the communist island, at a time when Pablo Escobar, head of the aforementioned cartel, was looking for an alliance with the Castros to drug trafficking and has uncovered the links that Fidel Castro maintained with Colombian drug traffickers, making Cuba a springboard for drug trafficking.

Regarding Venezuelan participation, since 2020, Maduro was accused of conspiring to traffic cocaine with the help of Colombia’s FARC. Despite the billions of dollars that poured into Venezuela’s coffers during the oil boom, Chávez’s 21st century socialism and his pursuit (for the socialist project) required significant financial resources to maintain.

“When Chávez took power I was on my second boat. We knew that he was an ignoramus without the capacity to govern a country. I went to Venezuela in 2002 with my son, I showed him what he really was. I have not returned again,” Romero confessed.

Now, as part of the investigation that overthrew the so-called ‘queen of the skies’ Romero stated that “There is no evidence that links the Nicolás Maduro regime directly to the planes of Debra Lynn Mercer, “but we do have information that Alex Saab (recognized as Maduro’s front man, and whom Washington has just released) in 2012 was working together with Piedad Córdoba, the Colombian senator (recently deceased) who was the bridge to have negotiations with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). “Saab flew these planes and went from Bogotá to Ecuador where Tirofijo (one of the high command of the FARC) was”

“I was the head of the interinstitutional task force of the southern command in several countries. During my tenure, there was a change in the way cocaine was transported from Latin America to the US, from sea to air. In 2017-2018 it was the maritime change to the aerial one. 10 tons of cocaine were arriving through Guatemala, generally the preferred destination for drugs arriving from Colombia and Venezuela through the so-called Pacific vector. Law and order agencies working abroad under pressure in Guatemala began to dismantle organizations and by 2018 most of these groups had already fallen to the operations of the DEA. These drops reflect the extraditions of drug traffickers from the countries of the northern triangle to the United States. Then they jumped from the sea to the air and here Debra Lynn’s planes take center stage,” he highlighted.

There were hundreds and thousands of aircraft used by the cartels between 2017 and 2023. The plan was simple but brilliant. Second-hand jets such as single-engine and twin-engine aircraft, Hawkers, Gulfstreams, Sabrelines, and Challengers were purchased by brokers and registered in the United States. These aircraft would then be taken to Mexico, where they would await orders from the cartels to pick up cocaine shipments in Venezuela. Once authorized and coordinated through corrupt Venezuelan officials, these jets would fly from Mexico and land in Apure or Zulia, where local organizations would load and refuel these aircraft for a quick return in the dead of night. Hundreds and thousands of these flights occurred, many of them crashing along the way. Venezuela is full of remains of this activity. Belize, Guatemala and Honduras received the brunt of these flights, leaving behind violence, death and corruption.

The operation was a resounding success and a hard blow to drug trafficking. “People think that the US says that the Jalisco Nueva Generación cartel represents a danger and must be taken down now. That sounds good as political speech, but building a case in reality takes years. Between two and seven on average. In Debra Lynn’s case we put it together in three (record time due to the complexity of the case). To demonstrate her airline business linked to drug trafficking. To get an idea of ​​the amounts of the business, let’s analyze that 120 kilograms of cocaine at $25,000 represents close to $3 billion. Each plane carried 37.5 million dollars. This was being done with the knowledge of the rulers of Mexico and the rulers of Venezuela. Because that is where the freedoms with which these planes operated come from,” he stated.

Romero, with 37 years of service to the United States, during his exclusive revealed details of the investigations (we will have it in a second installment) and is concerned about the twists that both teaching and communicative products take regarding topics in which we should take responsibility. a more responsible attitude in the education of young people to whom the dangers of scourges such as drug trafficking and communism must be explained.

“We are the product of the cold war, our grandparents of the world war. We sing victory when we consider the wall of communism destroyed. We won (we believed). And I think we fail to instill that in our children. They go to universities where they are taught academically things that are very different from the history of communism and not the real threat that it is. Now you see in audiovisuals the historical memory of how things were is lost. In the 1980s, here in Brickell, for example, we had shootings related to drug trafficking operations, the planes dropped cocaine shipments in Coral Gables, the corruption was so much that the police themselves picked it up,” he explained.

During the account of a life dedicated to duty in his military career, this hero of the American nation recognizes that “he sacrifices a lot.”

“Time is sacrificed, being away from family, periods of up to 8 months. Not seeing children grow up and miss important dates,” but while she remembers it, Romero stares at an apparent limbo of memories. Did you know? “I would do it all over again,” he says firmly.

In a second installment we will learn details of his participation in this operation that meant a hard blow to drug trafficking and we will delve with his story into the maneuvers that since the time of Chávez and now under the mandate of Nicolás Maduro relate Venezuela to shady dealings to with the advice of Cuba, maintain political leadership and manage to circumvent US measures.