“Sol Prendido” for Borderland Best

A US and ‘Insight Crime’ study claims Maduro’s tenure has seen increased production in cultivation and laboratories

Criminal groups take advantage of a deteriorated land route between the states of Amazonas and Bolivar to traffic drugs.

Venezuela has become a drug-producing country in recent years, after decades of being a key bridge for the trafficking of illegal substances. This is according to the US government and the Insight Crime portal, a hemispheric monitor that tracks the impact of organized crime in the region. “In the Maduro era, drug trafficking has atomized with a proliferation of actors. The country’s participation in the global supply chain has expanded beyond drug transit, with the first forays into cocaine production,” the research says. Caracas, usually through military officials, questions the bias of these reports.

The Armed Forces Strategic Operational Command recently posted evidence on its social networks of several operations documenting the burning of coca and poppy crops. “All those who disrespect our laws and offend the homeland with their infamous vices will be expelled,” the publication warns.

The accusations against the Government for its alleged nexus with financial operations linked to drug trafficking have increased in intensity during the mandate of Nicolás Maduro, who has been in power for 10 years now. In 2005, Chávez himself decided to put an end to the anti-narcotics cooperation agreement between Venezuela and the DEA. His successor is blamed for the anarchization of mining areas, the tolerant attitude towards Colombian guerrillas, the enthronement of mafias in the border with Colombia and the consolidation of drug trafficking operations in the eastern coast of the country.

In any case, the volume of coca leaf cultivation in Venezuela, counted in hundreds of hectares, is still much lower than in Colombia, the world’s largest producer with 200,000 hectares, or the countries that follow, such as Peru, with 20,000 hectares, or Bolivia, which has about 10,000. Some sources point out that, more than crops, what has proliferated are the processing laboratories, especially in the states of the plains, such as Cojedes, or in the eastern part of the country.

“Drug trafficking has gained importance as a component of Maduro’s strategies to hold on to power in the face of the attacks suffered by his government,” said Insight Crime. “His goal has not been to capture for himself the wealth from transnational cocaine trafficking, but to control and channel its flow, using it as a mechanism to reward the political, military and criminal powers that Maduro needs to maintain control of the government.

The existence of marijuana, poppy and coca leaf growing areas has been documented in the border areas with Colombia: in the Sierra de Perijá, south of Lake Maracaibo, Amazonas State and in Alto Apure. Lawyer and criminologist Luis Izquiel states that “there are areas in the northern department of Santander, the municipality of Tibú, in Colombia, where drug cultivation is one of the largest in the world. This overexploitation has permeated Venezuela. Many Venezuelan migrants in need are being recruited as labor by irregular groups in the border areas”.

The business and management of local drug production, formerly with a strong Colombian presence, has been passing into Venezuelan hands, although the presence of FARC dissidents and Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) in protecting and promoting many of these activities seems indisputable. The effects of Plan Colombia, together with the peace agreements, have produced a significant displacement of Colombian troops to Venezuela.

“Of course the problem of trafficking and cultivation in the country has worsened,” says a well-known anti-narcotics judge who has preferred to keep her name confidential. The magistrate explains that the Cartel de Los  Soles doesn’t operate under a classic hierarchical criminal organization, selectively killing people under the command of a boss, as happens in Colombia or Mexico. “It is a dense network of military personnel who do business with narcotics, and are tolerated in official bodies in exchange for support for the revolution. Although I must say that I also know many professional and honest military men, determined to do their job properly, with an inflexible position on these issues,” he adds.

Javier Mayorca, director of the news portal Crímenes sin Castigo, assures that “Venezuela has few instruments to locate illicit crops and, since the rupture with the DEA, a willful blindness with this. Few people from abroad can certify local efforts. What is seen from Colombia is a densification of crops towards the border line”. Mayorca also adds that there is a selective criterion of the State at the moment of attacking drug trafficking activities, and that this bias is also observed in the fight against crime or illegal mining. “Some are attacked very hard, and others are not even touched with the petal of a rose,” he says.

El País