Never Enough

 As we look at the over two decades Chavismo has had the reins in Venezuela it is clear that for the Chavistas there is never enough power and never enough money. As they worked their way through each sector of life and society in Venezuela they would increase their power and as they enriched themselves, at the expense of the Venezuelan people, they destroyed everything they touched. The Chavista approach to the problem of drug trafficking would be no different.

 In 2005 Hugo Chavez announced the suspension of cooperation with the US – DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). The move had the much expected result. The vast amount of cocaine produced in Colombia was always under pressure by the US – DEA with cooperation from the Colombian government as they worked to seize drug shipments. With the DEA no longer a factor in Venezuela the routes for transporting drugs followed the path of least resistance and it became a common practice to smuggle cocaine across the border from Colombia to Venezuela and then on to it’s markets around the world. Since the Chavistas had proclaimed they would “deal with it themselves”, why confront the DEA/Colombian government forces when it was easier to just avoid them. Venezuela was now a primary cocaine trafficking route.

 Insight Crime did a series of articles on the drug trade flowing through Venezuela. In the first piece they tell us that In October, 2021 the Venezuela Ministry of the Interior issued a statement regarding the Venezuelan military’s anti-narcotics operation in the state of Zulia. They destroyed labs, seized cocaine and coca paste, and eradicated 32 hectares (79 acres)  of coca crops. Why is this a big deal? Venezuela is now PRODUCING cocaine.

 Various international agencies and Venezuela government reports show coca processing proliferating in the border areas of Venezuela. Previously coca was grown and processed into cocaine in Colombia then shipped through Venezuela as a transportation hub to North America and Europe, the primary markets for cocaine.

 So far, cocaine production in Venezuela is a small percentage of the overall production but it’s growing , as the article put it, “in the perfect petri dish for it to spread” which are poor, isolated regions abandoned by the state and dominated by armed groups such as ELN and FARC dissidents. The drug traffickers operate freely, often with the complicity of the Maduro regime. (I guess “we’ll handle it ourselves” meant “they can continue to ply their trade as long as we get a piece of the action”)

 The Colombia and Venezuela sides of the border historically had complimentary roles. Venezuelan workers flowed into Colombia to work in the coca fields and Colombian cocaine flowed into Venezuela for distribution. Venezuela also contributes a lot of the chemical products necessary to cocaine production. They are easily obtained in Venezuela but not so easy to get in Colombia.

 In February, 2022 the Venezuela military eradicated another 31 hectares (76 acres) of coca crops. Sources (anonymous for fear of reprisal) say many of the fields are controlled by ELN guerillas. They either buy land or, with support from state security forces, forcibly remove landowners.

 For years there have been numerous airstrips and coastal dispatch points in Venezuela. Now there are more coca fields and processing facilities as well. In other areas of Venezuela there are both plantations with 20-50 hectares (49-123 acres) and small growers with labor provided by local indigenous groups who work for low pay or under threat. The traffickers also provide training to young locals as “chemists” offering $5,000 cash to the young recruits.

 Coca crops offer irresistible revenues to both criminals and impoverished farmers  and once they are firmly established any attempt to eradicate the lucrative crops foments conflict and deepens ties between armed groups and rural communities. (Just ask the Colombians)

 If the process remains unchecked, Venezuela’s move from a transit nation to a cocaine producer country could be just the beginning.

 The second part of the Insight Crime series is titled “Maduro Seeks To Regulate The Cocaine Trade”. Since Maduro took power in 2013 both the drug trade and the state’s involvement have strengthened. Maduro has used it, not to enrich himself (he has plenty of other sources of illegal revenue like the CLAP government food program), but to control and channel the flow and in doing so use these positions to reward political,military,and key criminal powers he needs to maintain his hold on government.

 Early on it was easier to control. It was primarily just transportation hubs. Now the situation is much more complex with transportation hubs, coca growing, and cocaine processing with state actors, military, and criminal groups competing as much as cooperating.

 The US government estimates that about 250 tons of cocaine are trafficked through Venezuela, between 10% – 15% of global production. Drug trafficking routes pass through nearly every state in Venezuela.

 In the border areas guerilla groups ELN and FARC dissidents control trafficking routes as well as growing and production and , using their connections with Mexican and Brazilian buyers, also produce, transport,and sell their own cocaine shipments.

 Outside the border areas Venezuelan traffickers dominate the drug trade.In the western Caribbean region it’s the domain, primarily, of cartels. In the eastern Caribbean and internal regions it’s the domain, primarily, of ultra-violent mega-gangs.

 Overseeing and facilitating trafficking in all areas are state actors (government officials and military). Trafficking cells embedded within the military and police, collectively  known as Cartel Of The Suns (reputedly linked to Diosdado Cabello, the number two man in Venezuela), transport shipments internally and control exports at airports and ports.

 Complicit in all of this, the judiciary offers freedom from prosecution. (Is that why all these reports of drug raids talk about infrastructure destroyed and weapons seized but nothing about arrests or apprehensions?)

 It is unlikely that Nicolas Maduro has direct personal involvement but the regime’s clientelist arrangement allows them to profit from all aspects of drug trafficking and all important players are deeply invested in maintaining the status quo ie; keeping the Maduro regime in power. It is a delicate balancing act for Maduro.Everything is increasingly fractured from the actual drug trade, the Chavismo political movement, the military… everything.

 We’ll wrap up part two of the Insight Crime series on Monday and have more for you (everyone loves a good drug story) as well as checking out what’s happening in the news feed. Until then… Have a great weekend everybody!!!!

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