Dope from Venzuela to UK


Last year, about 250 tons of cocaine are thought to have passed through Venezuela - up to a five-fold increase on 2004. Much of this ended up in Britain.

Anti-drugs officials estimate that more than 50 per cent of all the cocaine consumed in Britain has been trafficked through Venezuela - under the "revolutionary" regime of Mr Chavez. The figure could be as high as two thirds.

Senior commanders in Venezuela's security forces are thought to be profiting from the trade and actively helping the smugglers, notably by allowing them to use military airfields.

"Venezuela is a magnet for drug trafficking right now. It's a huge problem," said a senior member of another Latin American government. "Venezuela is a Bermuda Triangle for drugs."

A crucial change in the global pattern of narcotics smuggling is now underway.

Colombia remains the world's largest producer of raw coca, which is refined into cocaine. In the past, most of the narcotics were smuggled northwards to the Caribbean, for onward passage to Europe or America. But today the cocaine is more likely to go over the eastern frontier into Venezuela.

Here, drugs bound for Europe are loaded onto long-range aircraft and flown across the Atlantic to West Africa. Small countries with little ability to police their airspace or coastlines, notably Guinea-Bissau, Senegal and Sierra Leone, are key transit points. The flights are unloaded at these locations and the drugs shipped onwards to Europe.

Under Mr Chavez, Venezuela has become the crucial link in this chain. Drug-runners are relatively safe from arrest inside his domain.

In 1998 - the last year before Mr Chavez came to office - Venezuela's security forces made 11,581 drug-related arrests. By 2005, this had plummeted to only 1,082.


"There has been a turnaround in our policy since 2000," said Rocio San Miguel, the head of Citizen Control, a Venezuelan organisation monitoring the country's armed forces.

"Since that time, there has been no bilateral cooperation between the two governments over the border. Traditionally, borders in Latin America have been grey, lawless areas. One of the most active borders in all of Latin America is the frontier between Colombia and Venezuela. It's impossible to oversee this border if there's no cooperation between the two countries."

Moreover, Mr Chavez has a longstanding relationship with Marxist rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). These guerrillas fund their insurgency by smuggling drugs - and they have a presence on Venezuelan territory which is, at the very least, tolerated.

Behind all this, however, lurks corruption in Mr Chavez's security forces. Documented cases suggest that members of the army, police and National Guard are actively helping the traffickers.

Last June, four smugglers were arrested at the main airport on Venezuela's Margarita Island while loading 2.2 tons of cocaine onto an aircraft bound for Sierra Leone. They did not expect to be caught because five police officers from the CICPC, an elite investigative unit, were part of their gang and had escorted them into the airport.

In 2006, a DC-9 aircraft carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine was seized after landing in Mexico. The plane had departed from Simon Bolivar Airport in Venezuela's capital, Caracas. Officials believe that such a huge quantity of drugs could only have been loaded onto the DC-9 with the collusion of the airport's security authorities.

Much of the cocaine smuggled out of Colombia is flown over the border in light aircraft. Anti-drugs officials, who track these illicit flights, say they have landed at military airfields inside Venezuela.

Here, the cocaine has been transferred onto long range planes, generally Gulfstreams, Boeing 727s or DC-9s, for the onward journey to West Africa.


There is more. I have posted similar stories in the past. Venezuela is the jumping off point. Sometimes the drugs transit through Haiti and other times they go directly to West Africa for transport to Europe and the UK. I think Portugal may also be a transit point, but that is speculation. The story does not make a direct link to Chavez, but other stories have suggested a link to Chavez's security chief. It would be interesting to follow the money associated with the transit of drugs through Venezuela. That would give you a better idea of the involvement of government officials.


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