Cilia Flores and Nicolas Maduro

US officials have arrested two relatives of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on drug trafficking charges, furthering speculation around the involvement of Venezuela's upper echelons of power in the drug trade.

Efrain Antonio Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Freitas were arrested by local authorities on November 10 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, reported The Wall Street Journal. They were then turned over to US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents and flown to New York. Accused of conspiring to transport 800 kilograms of cocaine into the United States, they are scheduled to appear before a federal judge on November 12.

Campo Flores identified himself as Maduro's stepson, having been raised by his aunt and Maduro's wife, Cilia Flores. Flores de Freitas reportedly said he also was a nephew of Cilia Flores. According to the AP, both men were carrying diplomatic passports at the time of their arrest, but do not have diplomatic immunity.

In October, the two contacted a DEA confidential informant in Honduras to ask for help in trafficking drugs through the airport on the island of Roatan, and allegedly sent pilots to speak with an airport official about the scheme. According to a person with knowledge of the matter cited by The Wall Street Journal, "It looked like amateur stuff."

As reported by Spain's ABC, this is not the first time sons of Flores and Maduro have been linked to drug trafficking. Testimony by Leamsy Salazar -- the ex-head of security for former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and current National Assembly President Disodado Cabello -- accused Walter Jacob Gavidia Flores -- a son of Flores -- of using planes owned by Venezuela's national oil company (PdVSA) to transport drugs. This was allegedly done in collaboration with Maduro's son, also called Nicolas.

US officials have identified Venezuela as the main transfer point for Colombian cocaine destined for the United States, saying over 200 tons of cocaine transits Venezuela annually. This accounts for roughly a third of Colombia's estimated production, reported the AP.

InSight Crime Analysis

As the AP points out, these arrests mark the first time US officials have targeted members of Maduro's "inner circle" accused of drug trafficking.

Nonetheless, there's some implication that the two nephews could hardly be considered key figures in Venezuela's transnational drug trade, given that the Wall Street Journal's source called them amateurish. It is possible Campos Flores and Flores de Freitas were inexperienced criminals caught up in a successful DEA sting operation. But if they were indeed carrying out a relatively "amateur" attempt at drug trafficking, another possible explaination is that the two men felt a false sense of security, and believed they were engaging in business-as-usual and could rely on the protection of top Venezuelan authorities. 

SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profiles

The arrests of Campo Flores and Flores de Freitas are the latest in a series of accusations -- as well as ongoing rumors -- regarding official collusion in drug trafficking. For instance, in 2014, Venezuela's ex-intelligence chief Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios was detained in Aruba at the behest of US officials. Accused of drug trafficking, Carvajal was nonetheless released days after his arrest, frustrating US attempts for his extradition.

Similarly, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello has avoided being directly linked to drug trafficking. This is despite a recent book that leveled scathing drug trafficking accusations against him, and indications he is under investigation by US prosecutors. Notably, Fox News Latino reported Maduro's nephews told DEA officials following their arrest that they were acting in connection with Cabello.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...