President Maduro with the Venezuelan Air Force

Seven current and former Venezuela military officials are to be tried for allowing illegal drug flights to transit through the country, in a small-scale prosecution that continues to leave the highest ranks of corrupt military untouched.

A court in the state of Aragua has confirmed charges against five Venezuelan Military Air Force officials -- a major, a captain and two lieutenants -- and two retired National Guard officials, according to a Public Ministry press release. These individuals are suspected of allowing the entrance and exit of non-authorized aircraft through Venezuelan air space, and will be tried for drug trafficking, conspiracy and the formation of armed groups.

Among the accused is the Air Force Coronel Rafael Ponce Delgado, who was formerly in charge of control tower communications in Las Flecheras airport, in the state of Apure, which borders Colombia.

SEE ALSO:  Venezuela News and Profiles

The current and former military officials are being detained. Three Colombian nationals and one Venezuelan have been sentenced to five years in prison as part of the same case.

The Public Ministry added that a high ranking military official allegedly offered a substantial amount of dollars per month -- though it is unclear to whom -- in return for allowing the passage of illegal flights.

Investigations began in May 2015 after allegations were presented to the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (Dirección General de Contrainteligencia Militar - DGCIM).

InSight Crime Analysis

While this investigation into military involvement in criminal activities by a Venezuelan court is encouraging, its focus on low-ranking officials is of little impact, and avoids targeting the military elite believed to be behind the country's drug trafficking operations.

Although such prosecutions aim to take out the lower rungs of the corrupt military, it is largely believed that involvement in drug trafficking reaches the very top military posts -- referred to as the "Cartel of the Suns" (Cartel de los Soles) -- as well as leading politicians (the current Vice-president and former National Assembly leader Diosdado Cabello has been on the receiving end of numerous allegations in recent months).

SEE ALSO:  Cartel de los Soles News and Profile

This new trial brings to mind the unsatisfactory judicial backlash that followed the historic bust of 1.3 tons of cocaine on a commercial flight from Caracas to Paris in 2013. A number of National Guard members -- including two sergeants and a first lieutenant -- were subsequently detained, although it was suggested that these arrests were merely a façade, while the true brains behind the operation remained free.

The impunity of high-level figures continues despite increasing pressure by the United States' to expose the involvement of elements of the Venezuelan government in illegal trafficking activities. In December 2015, the US Department of Justice announced that it would bring charges against numerous top Venezuelan government officials, naming only the head of the National Guard and former Drug Czar Nestor Reverol, and the former top antidrug official Edilberto Molina.

Furthermore, November 2015 saw the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) arrest the Venezuelan first lady's nephews in Haiti, and the pair are currently being tried by a New York court on cocaine smuggling charges. The reaction of Venezuela's socialist government has generally been denial, and First Lady Cilia Flores most recently spoke up on the case, claiming that the DEA had "kidnapped" her nephews.

The military represents a key power base for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's crumbling socialist government, so it is unsurprising that the executive choose to turn a blind eye to serious criminal allegations to avoid compromising the army's support for the regime.

Investigations

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

The Infiltrators: Corruption in El Salvador's Police

The Infiltrators: Corruption in El Salvador's Police

Ricardo Mauricio Menesses Orellana liked horses, and the Pasaquina rodeo was a great opportunity to enjoy a party. He was joined at the event -- which was taking place in the heart of territory controlled by El Salvador's most powerful drug transport group, the Perrones -- by the...

The FARC 1964-2002: From Ragged Rebellion to Military Machine

The FARC 1964-2002: From Ragged Rebellion to Military Machine

On May 27, 1964 up to one thousand Colombian soldiers, backed by fighter planes and helicopters, launched an assault against less than fifty guerrillas in the tiny community of Marquetalia. The aim of the operation was to stamp out once and for all the communist threat in...

'Chepe Luna,' the Police and the Art of Escape

'Chepe Luna,' the Police and the Art of Escape

The United States -- which through its antinarcotics, judicial and police attaches was very familiar with the routes used for smuggling, and especially those used for people trafficking and understood that those traffickers are often one and the same -- greeted the new government of Elias Antonio...

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. They love the money it brings, funds which have allowed them to survive and even threaten to topple the state at the end of the 1990s. They hate the corruption and stigma narcotics have also brought to...

Criminalization of FARC Elements Inevitable

Criminalization of FARC Elements Inevitable

While there is no doubt that the FARC have only a tenuous control over some of their more remote fronts, there is no evidence of any overt dissident faction within the movement at the moment.

Ivan Rios Bloc: the FARC's Most Vulnerable Fighting Division

Ivan Rios Bloc: the FARC's Most Vulnerable Fighting Division

When considering the possibilities that the FARC may break apart, the Ivan Rios Bloc is a helpful case study because it is perhaps the weakest of the FARC's divisions in terms of command and control, and therefore runs the highest risk of fragmentation and criminalization.

The Reality of the FARC Peace Talks in Havana

The Reality of the FARC Peace Talks in Havana

If we are to believe the Colombian government, the question is not if, but rather when, an end to 50 years of civil conflict will be reached. Yet the promise of President Juan Manuel Santos that peace can be achieved before the end of 2014 is simply...

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

In August 2002, the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) greeted Colombia's new president with a mortar attack that killed 14 people during his inauguration. The attack was intended as a warning to the fiercely anti-FARC newcomer. But it became the opening salvo of...

MS-13's 'El Barney': A Trend or an Isolated Case?

MS-13's 'El Barney': A Trend or an Isolated Case?

In October 2012, the US Treasury Department designated the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as a transnational criminal organization (TCO). While this assertion seems unfounded, there is one case that illustrates just why the US government is worried about the future.

Barrio 18 Leader 'Viejo Lin' on El Salvador Gang Truce

Barrio 18 Leader 'Viejo Lin' on El Salvador Gang Truce

Barrio 18 leader Carlos Lechuga Mojica, alias "El Viejo Lin," is one of the most prominent spokesmen for El Salvador's gang truce. InSight Crime co-director Steven Dudley spoke with Mojica in Cojutepeque prison in October 2012 about how the maras view the controversial peace process, which has...