The clandestine flights originate from an area of eastern Venezuela which lies to the east of Maturin and Tucupita, near the Orinoco River Delta.
The small aircraft fly towards the Atlantic Ocean, with Trinidad & Tobago on the port side of the outbound flights, sometimes flying 150-200 miles out to sea before returning to Venezuela.
Somewhere on the outbound or return trip, the aircraft dump bales of cocaine into the ocean where they are retrieved by small boats or persons piloting jet skis.
The cocaine is then loaded aboard mother ships en route to southern European ports or, increasingly, ports in West Africa.
Caribbean counter-drug authorities have tracked dozens of these flights over the past 12-24 months. Their frequency is growing, officials tell Caracas Gringo.
FARC militants based in Venezuela are believed to be heavily involved in these clandestine drug flights.
“We have confirmed the FARC has a permanent operational presence in Guyana and all the way out the Caribbean to St. Lucie,” a Lt. Commander with a Caribbean state navy says.
But clandestine flights are only part of a larger tactical problem facing Caribbean counter-drug forces.
Eastern Venezuela is also the point of departure for hundreds of “pirogues” – the small fiberglass fishing boats equipped with between two and four outboard motors.
These pirogues transport cocaine out to sea where the drugs are offloaded to other pirogues, or to larger boats that carry the drugs further out to sea where mother ships wait.
The drug pirogues sailing out of eastern Venezuela’s delta region are very fast and very difficult to detect by radar.
Increasingly, Caribbean counterdrug patrol boats intercepting pirogues over the past year have reported coming under semi-automatic and automatic weapons fire.
Caribbean naval intelligence sources operating from islands like Barbados and Trinidad were alarmed when Colombia’s government reported in August the capture of several Venezuelan-owned AT-4 rockets in FARC camps.
Caribbean naval strategists and tactical operations experts are war gaming scenarios in which counter-drug forces could be attacked by swarms of pirogues armed with RPG’s, AT-4’s or perhaps newer Russian-made Strela or Igla manpads.
Strela and Igla manpad SAMs are designed for anti-aircraft defense. But Caribbean naval sources say that in trained hands a Strela or Igla manpad could be a terribly effective weapon against a patrol boat.
Caribbean naval intelligence sources also say that the government of Trinidad & Tobago is increasingly concerned about systematic, ongoing efforts by agents of President Hugo Chavez to corrupt key officials and institutions of the island’s government and business groups.
“We know Chavez has his eye on Trinidad’s LNG and petrochemical infrastructure,” an official says. “But the question is whether Chavez ever would attempt to take control by force of Trinidad’s energy industry? Or, alternatively, would he facilitate terrorist strikes launched from Venezuelan territory against Trinidad’s energy infrastructure?”