The dope from Venezuela
Colombian drug kingpins in league with corrupt Venezuelan military officers are increasingly using this country as a way station for smuggling cocaine to the United States and Europe, according to Colombian and U.S. officials. The Bush administration's dismal relations with Venezuela's government have made matters worse, anti-drug agencies say, paralyzing counternarcotics cooperation.With a socialist economy and jobs why would anyone in Venezuela be corrupt? OK, just kidding. I suspect the corruption goes all the way to the top. Venezuela has become one of the most corrupt societies in the world since Chavez took over and the corruption is not limited to drugs. The rule of law has become a sometimes thing at best. Socialism can do that for you. You would think with all that free Cuban health care they wouldn't need corruption.
Venezuela does not cultivate the leaf from which cocaine is derived. Instead, this country on South America's northern fringe, along with Ecuador and Central America, has long been a stopover for cocaine produced in neighboring Colombia, the world's top producer.
Now, however, the volume of cocaine trafficked through Venezuela has risen sharply. Shipments have increased significantly, with suspected northbound drug flights out of the country increasing threefold from 2003 to 2006, according to American radar tracking. Counter-drug officials say up to 220 tons of cocaine -- a third of what Colombia produces -- now pass through Venezuela, double the figure in the 1990s. Most of it is bound for the United States and burgeoning markets in Spain, Britain and Italy.
The traffickers have operated with illegally obtained Venezuelan identification cards from agencies as varied as the National Guard, the DISIP intelligence agency and even the economy ministry, all while living in some of the finest neighborhoods in the Venezuelan capital, according to authorities in Bogota, the Colombian capital, and in Caracas. The trend has led to spiraling turf wars among drug gangs in Caracas slums and has directly challenged the government's ability to rein in corruption.
"The problem of drugs has gotten out of the hands of Venezuela," said Mildred Camero, a former drug czar in President Hugo Chavez's government and now a consultant on narcotics to the United Nations, the United States and private industry.
"Now the situation in Venezuela is grave, grave, grave," Camero added. "At some moment, we're going to collapse."
In an interview, Venezuelan Attorney General Isaeas Rodr¿guez characterized the corruption as isolated and said the government has made fighting the drug trade a priority. But he acknowledged the problem and said traffickers have corrupted some Venezuelan officials while working hand in hand with others.
Counter-drug officials in Washington say Venezuela's failure comes just as increased pressure on cartels in Colombia -- part of a seven-year, $5 billion counternarcotics campaign funded by the United States -- is forcing traffickers out. The campaign has led to the arrest of major trafficking suspects, including Diego Montoya, the Norte del Valle cartel leader arrested in September.
Compounding the problem is the corruption among government forces on the 1,300-mile border Colombia shares with Venezuela. It is so serious, officials say, that a group of generals in the Venezuelan National Guard is believed to be running a virtual operation known as the Cartel of the Suns, a reference to the stars on their uniforms.
"A Venezuelan military officer fights to get sent to the border," said Camero, the former drug czar, who was abruptly forced out in 2005. "He knows he'll earn more money there than simply as an officer of the Venezuelan armed forces."