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

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

The power of Colombia's elites is founded upon one of the most unequal divisions of land in the world. As of the early 21st century, one percent of landowners own more than half the country's agricultural land.1  Under Spanish rule, Colombia's agriculture was organized on the hacienda...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras is currently one of the most violent countries on the planet that is not at war. The violence is carried out by transnational criminal organizations, local drug trafficking groups, gangs and corrupt security forces, among other actors. Violence is the focal point for the international aid...

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Organized crime and the violence associated with it is the preeminent problem in Latin America and the Caribbean today. The region is currently home to six of the most violent countries in the world that are not at war. Four of those countries are in Central America...

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

In a new report based on extensive field research, InSight Crime and the Asociacion para una Sociedad mas Justa have traced how Honduras' two largest gangs, the MS13 and the Barrio 18, are evolving, and how their current modus operandi has resulted in staggering levels of violence...

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Transnational organized crime likes opportunities and little resistance. Bolivia currently provides both and finds itself at the heart of a new criminal dynamic that threatens national and citizen security in this landlocked Andean nation.

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

As Guatemala's Congress gears up to select new Supreme Court Justices and appellate court judges, InSight Crime is investigating how organized crime influences the selection process. This story details the interests of one particular political bloc vying for control over the courts and what's at stake: millions...

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...

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The mad scramble for criminal power in the aftermath of the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is over. The Urabeños, or as they prefer to call themselves, the "Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia," have won.

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Faced with the government's failure to rein in the criminals, communities across crime-besieged Mexico have been trying for years to organize effective civic resistance. Michoacan's vigilantes express the most extreme response by society to date, but other efforts have been less belligerent. In battle-torn cities along the...

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

If Uruguay's proposal to regulate the production, sale and distribution of marijuana is properly implemented and overcomes political and economic hurdles, it could be the most important drug regulation experiment in decades.