Acting on a request by Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), currently the ranking minority member on the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, the US Government General Accountability Office (GAO), has just published a damning report on the growing involvement and active participation of rogue elements of key Venezuelan security entities in drug trafficking with the FARC, and with Colombian paramilitary groups and professional organized crime groups.
The report, titled “Drug Control: U.S. counternarcotics cooperation with Venezuela has declined,” was researched between August 2008 and July 2009, with visits by GAO investigators to Colombia and Venezuela. (The GAO report notes at the outset that Venezuelan authorities they met with in Venezuela did not cooperate with their investigation.) The report’s main findings include:
*The transshipment of Colombian cocaine through Venezuela increased four-fold from 2004 to 2007, from 60 mt in 2004 to about 260 mt in 2007 (17% of all cocaine produced in Colombia in 2007).
*The FARC accounts for about 60% of the cocaine shipped from Colombia to the US.
*A growing portion of the cocaine enters Venezuela on the Pan-American highway through the Cucuta/San Antonio crossing, hidden in the over $6 billion a year two-way trade characterized by a hefty and increasing surplus for Colombia. But Colombian cocaine also enters Venezuela in boats that travel down the Colombian Meta, Vichada and Guaviare Rivers until they empty into the Orinoco River in Venezuela.
*Some cocaine leaves Venezuela in commercial containers aboard ships from the ports of Maracaibo, Puerto Cabello and La Guaira. Some cocaine leaves in small fishing boats or go-fast boats which travel as far as the island of Hispaniola. Venezuela has 4,000 km of Caribbean coastline and 185 km of Atlantic Ocean coastline. However, large amounts of cocaine also leave Venezuela by air, traveling mainly to Hispaniola, but increasingly since 2004 to Central America too (Nicaragua, Honduras). In 2007 JIATF-South detected 178 suspect flights taking off from Venezuela, compared with 109 in 2004. Most of these illegal flights originated from the state of Apure.
*Most of the cocaine seized in Europe since 2004 originated from Venezuela. Cocaine seizures in West Africa totaled over 33 mt from 2005, 2007, and most of it originated from Venezuela.
*Corrupt Venezuelan National Guard and CICPV anti-drug units are actively engaged in the drug trade.
Predictably, President Chavez immediately trashed the report. Interior & Justice Minister Tarek al Assaimi called a press conference with international news media to accuse the US of being the world’s biggest drug trafficker. The minister also called attention to the alleged increase in drug seizures reported since the start of 2009 by the National Guard and CICPC. However, foreign counter-narcotics sources who work in this region say the Interior and Justice Ministry’s numbers are inflated. The GAO report also reflects international suspicions that a large portion of the drugs seized officially in Venezuela are not destroyed as claimed, but secretly put back into the export market.
A Venezuelan CICPC counter-narcotics source also tells Caracas Gringo that many of the drug seizures reported recently involve Colombian paramilitary or criminal groups. “But the FARC’s drug shipments through Venezuela are not being touched at all,” he adds.