Dive...Dive...

 We’ll get to our continuing drug story shortly but first…Here’s something you don’t see every day. Insight Crime reports “Questions Surround Venezuela’s Seizure of Rare Drug Sub” The Venezuela Army captured a 6 meter, rigid hull, submersible watercraft in the Venezuela/Colombia border state of Apure. In the last couple of years Colombian authorities have seized 50 such subs (and I’m just now hearing about it?) but they’re rare in Venezuela. They’re usually found in coastal areas but this one was found far inland…hmm.. Usually they are larger vessels, to hold more cargo, but they’re only semi-submersible. This one was smaller, less cargo area, but it was fully submersible. There seems to be more questions than answers about what this means.

 And we have Argus Media reporting sources within the opposition told Argus that talks with the Maduro regime were agreed to, possibly mediated by NGO – Foro Civico. No party directly connected to the Maduro regime has confirmed.

 Then we have Telesur (government media) telling us that Maduro says the recovery (questionable) of the oil industry was achieved with the efforts of it’s workers and the Oil Minister and that workers could overcome the industry’s technological dependence on the US. He didn’t say how that might be accomplished (as usual).

 Also from Telesur we have the Antigua and Barbuda ambassador saying Caricom countries (14 Caribbean nations) will not attend the upcoming Summit of the Americas unless Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua are included. (What, no input on the troubling issues of the day from Saint Vincent?)

 And from the Digital Journal we have the report that Venezuela is currently a de-monitized country trying to monetize with the bolivar. The dollar started being widely used when frequent power outages made card payments and bank transfers impossible. (I was there during that time and the only way to get anything, unless you wanted to wait for the power to come back on, was to pay cash…in dollars) 80% of the dollars in circulation are cash, approximately $3 billion. Dollars are everywhere. The government is trying to replace the certainty of the dollar with the distrusted bolivar. The situation remains chaotic… “I pay in dollars and they charge the tax in bolivars?”

 Then we have Caracas Chronicles reporting that despite the 8% drop in oil exports overall, the oil exports to Cuba doubled to 70,000 bpd (barrels per day). Remember, they’re only producing 800,000 bpd (or less) so that’s a pretty good chunk of their production to be giving away for free to Cuba, not to mention the shortages in Venezuela.

 And we have a positive announcement from Nicolas Maduro. (No, not the usual propaganda, a real announcement) Imports will remain exempt from import and VAT (value added tax) taxes until December, 2023. Part of the story of Venezuela’s fragile economic recovery has been the rise in imports creating a lot of opportunity for businesses. The extension of this tax waiver will continue to hurt domestically produced products and make them less competitive but it’s good for the overall economy. I’m not sure how you reconcile this with Maduro’s promise to support domestic production though? Oh well, he just makes up those numbers anyway…

 Then we VP, Delcy Rodriguez, telling us that the commercial sector grew 86% in 2021. She didn’t mention that the increase was due to the country being locked down in 2020 due to Covid-19.

 And we have, Jorge Rodriguez, (her brother) blaming the opposition for xenophobia against Venezuelan migrants. He didn’t explain exactly how they were doing this…

 Then we have a “beauty queen-esque” statement from the Bolivian and Venezuelan Foreign Ministers. They announced they are committed to peace and respecting international law. (Great…)

 And we have Maduro’s Communications Minister criticizing the influence of digital and social media on public opinion. Funny, there was no criticism pre-Elon’s takeover of Twitter.

 And oncology patients are protesting (again) in front of the Health Ministry to demand that the government guarantee the supply of medication and treatment. Good luck with that…85% of medicines are in short supply and radiation therapy is almost nonexistent.

 Then we have the Healthcare Guild in Trujillo warning about the increase in dead newborns at Valera’s Central Hospital. They think the neonatal wing is contaminated.

 And we have Cecodap denouncing the Prosecutor General for publishing names, photos, and videos of teens involved in bullying.

 And in a potentially ominous development we have Provea warning that Maduro’s National Assembly is preparing a new law that would seek to illegalize NGOs. Operation by these organizations was illegal in Venezuela until a couple of years ago even though the international community was calling for Maduro to allow them to help with the humanitarian crisis. They have been allowed into Venezuela on a limited basis and in each case have been a direct benefit to the people that have been suffering for a long time. The Chavistas don’t like the people receiving actual help from outside organizations instead of the “smoke and mirrors” help offered by Chavismo. It’s hard to eat platitudes.

 Then we have Transparencia Venezuela and Foro Civico meeting with representatives of the opposition’s Unitary Platform to restart negotiations in Mexico. How long will it be until talks are restarted and how long will it take for the Chavistas to walk out on said talks?

 Now, let’s get back to our drug story. The next installment of Insight Crime’s series is titled “Beyond The Cartel of the Suns”…

 The 2020 indictment by the US- DOJ (Department Of Justice), painting a picture of Cartel of the Suns as a fearsome drug cartel, led by a dictator, with Latin America’s most powerful guerilla insurgency as it’s armed wing is too simplistic. The truth is, it’s not a drug cartel, per se, but a fluid and loose-knit network of trafficking cells embedded within Venezuela security forces, facilitated, protected, and sometimes directed by political actors.

 Cartel of the Suns has evolved so that now it’s less an organization run by Chavistas to more a system it regulates. Trafficking networks pay local military to operate with impunity. As drugs are moved through movement corridors, sometimes by the military themselves, authorizations move up the chain of command for clearance in other regions and territories. This includes Venezuela airspace and maritime territorial waters until shipments are out of their jurisdiction, all without direct contact from the Chavistas, profiting from it all.

 The increased flow of cocaine through/from Venezuela after Hugo Chavez suspended cooperation with the US-DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) in 2005 was immediate. Shipments went from 50 tons per year in 2004 to 250 tons in 2007.

 The narrative by the US prosecutors in the 2020 indictment is too neat, too simple. The reality is messy (Confused?…Chaotic?…Like everything related to Chavismo?). Guerilla groups like ELN and FARC dissidents do not act as the armed wing of Cartel of the Suns for the Chavistas, however, they do train ‘colectivos’ (armed motorcycle gangs acting as militia for the Chavistas). Chavista involvement in drug trafficking was a gradual process. First it was just looking the other way. Later, realizing the money to be made since the military had total control of airports, ports, and highways they got more involved.

 More tomorrow….

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