Venezuela - Drugs
Former President of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro Moros, Venezuela’s vice president for the economy, Venezuela’s Minister of Defense, and Venezuela’s Chief Supreme Court Justice are among those charged in New York City; Washington, DC; and Miami, along with current and former Venezuelan government officials as well as two Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) leaders, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr announced 26 March 2020.
“Today we announce criminal charges against Nicolás Maduro Moros for running, together with his top lieutenants, a narco-terrorism partnership with the FARC for the past 20 years,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman. “The scope and magnitude of the drug trafficking alleged was made possible only because Maduro and others corrupted the institutions of Venezuela and provided political and military protection for the rampant narco-terrorism crimes described in our charges. As alleged, Maduro and the other defendants expressly intended to flood the United States with cocaine in order to undermine the health and wellbeing of our nation. Maduro very deliberately deployed cocaine as a weapon. While Maduro and other cartel members held lofty titles in Venezuela’s political and military leadership, the conduct described in the Indictment wasn’t statecraft or service to the Venezuelan people. As alleged, the defendants betrayed the Venezuelan people and corrupted Venezuelan institutions to line their pockets with drug money.”
“Over the last decade, corrupt Venezuelan government officials have systematically looted Venezuela of billions of dollars,” said U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan. “Far too often, these corrupt officials and their co-conspirators have used South Florida banks and real estate to conceal and perpetuate their illegal activity. As the recent charges show, Venezuelan corruption and money laundering in South Florida extends to even the highest levels of Venezuela’s judicial system. In the last couple of years, the US Attorney’s Office in South Florida and its federal law enforcement partners have united to bring dozens of criminal charges against high-level regime officials and co-conspirators resulting in seizures of approximately $450 million dollars.”
“These indictments expose the devastating systemic corruption at the highest levels of Nicolas Maduro’s regime,” said DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon. “These officials repeatedly and knowingly betrayed the people of Venezuela, conspiring, for personal gain, with drug traffickers and designated foreign terrorist organizations like the FARC. Today’s actions send a clear message to corrupt officials everywhere that no one is above the law or beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. The Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration will continue to protect the American people from ruthless drug traffickers – no matter who they are or where they live.”
Drug trafficking is a serious problem in Venezuela and treated as such by Venezuelan authorities. Convicted traffickers receive lengthy prison sentences of usually eight to ten years. Lack of international counternarcotic cooperation in Venezuela, along with a shift in trafficking patterns in the region has made Venezuela one of the biggest drug-transit countries in the region.
The continued presence of the ELN and FARC in the border region between Venezuela and Colombia continues to be a serious concern. Along with kidnapping and smuggling operations, both the ELN and FARC use the drug trade to finance their operations. Groups not affiliated with the FARC or ELN also engage in drug trafficking and other illicit activities.
There is also evidence of involvement in the drug trade by some high-level Venezuelan government officials. Throughout 2018, several military officers were involved in drug traffic. Although the press regularly reports on drug seizures, large quantities of illicit drugs continue to flow through Venezuela to markets in the United States and Europe.
Every year since 1996, the US President determined that Venezuela was one of the major drug transit countries in the Western Hemisphere. Venezuela's extensive border with Colombia, covering large swaths of jungle and mountainous terrain, enables the flow of cocaine from Colombia over land and river routes and by air. After entering Venezuela, the cocaine usually leaves aboard maritime vessels that depart from Venezuela's long coastline or aboard suspicious aircraft that take off and land from hundreds of clandestine airstrips. While a majority of the cocaine transiting Venezuela is headed toward the United States, more has begun flowing toward Europe. According to U.S. and Colombian officials, Venezuela has extended a lifeline to Colombian illegal armed groups by providing significant support and safe haven along the border. As a result, these groups, which traffic in illicit drugs, remain viable threats to Colombian security.
A high level of corruption within the Venezuelan government, military, and other law enforcement and security forces contributes to the permissive environment, according to U.S. officials. The United States and Venezuela cooperated closely on counternarcotics between 2002 and 2005, but this cooperation since declined. The United States has attempted to resume cooperation through a variety of measures, but Venezuela - while initially supporting some of these efforts - did not reciprocate. In 2007, Venezuela began denying visas for U.S. officials to serve in Venezuela, which complicated efforts to cooperate.
In 2008, President Chavez expelled the U.S. Ambassador and recalled his Ambassador from Washington, D.C. But in June 2009, the United States and Venezuela agreed to return their respective ambassadors. Nevertheless, the Venezuelan government claims cooperation with the United States on counternarcotics is not necessary because Venezuela has its own programs.
Drug traffickers and guerrilla incursions from Colombia and other incidents present a continuing problem along the Venezuela/Colombia border. Venezuela has stationed armed forces on the sparsely-populated western border to control incursions and to protect Venezuelan ranchers residing in this area. In August 2014, the National Executive announced steps to close the border with Colombia during certain hours at certain times of the day in order to combat smuggling across the border. Subsidized goods available for sale under the Missions in Venezuela are hoarded and sold at higher prices in Colombia, leading to shortages in Venezuela and contributing to inflationary pressures.
On August 19, 2015, President Maduro initially closed two border crossings to Colombia for 72 hours after three members of the Venezuelan military, who were conducting an anti-smuggling exercise, were shot and killed. Between August and October 2015, the National Executive issued several decrees declaring a state of emergency in most of the municipalities in the affected states of Táchira, Zulia, Apure and Amazonas in October for an initial period of 60 days, along the Colombian border, closing several border crossings and restricting the movement of goods and enabling security forces to carry out vehicle checks in efforts to combat smuggling and drug-trafficking.
On September 28, 2015, the Republic and the South American Union of Nations (Unión Sudamericana de Naciones or “UNASUR,”) agreed that Colombian citizens who were required to leave Venezuela from August 19, 2015 were permitted to return. The regional state of emergency was extended for subsequent 60-day periods until it was superseded by a nationwide state of emergency instituted on January 14, 2016. Following two temporary border openings in July 2016, in which Venezuelans were permitted to cross into Colombia temporarily to buy necessities, Venezuela and Colombia agreed to gradually reopen the border starting on August 13, 2016. The reopening of the border is part of a larger framework to create a zone of peace along the border between the two countries involving five strategic objectives: combatting smuggling, strengthening bilateral trade, customs regulation, transport and health.
On December 12, 2016, President Maduro ordered the closure of the border with Colombia for 72 hours to combat currency smuggling in connection with the circulation of the new Bolívares bills. This measure was extended until December 20, 2016, by which time the Colombian and Venezuelan presidents agreed to strengthen border security and open the binational boundaries. In January 2017, the National Executive opened eight exchange offices on the border with Colombia to promote transparency and legal commerce between the two countries.
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