Cocaine seized in Caracas

Venezuela announced it seized over 45 tons of drugs in 2012, although the nation is still believed to offer a favorable environment for cocaine traffickers, thanks to complicity from corrupt elements in the security forces and government.

On December 20, Interior and Justice Minister, Nestor Luis Reverol, released figures showing that in 2012, Venezuelan authorities seized more than 45 tons of narcotics, reported El Nacional. This marks an increase of roughly 3 tons on the amount seized in 2011.

A little over 60 percent (27.17 tons) of the total seized was cocaine, with the remainder being comprised predominantly of marijuana (39.58 percent).

Reverol added that 20 major drug traffickers had been arrested in the country throughout the year, bringing the total number of such detentions to 95 since 2006.

Among the most prominent of these were Colombian drug lords Daniel “El Loco” Barrera who was arrested in September, and Rastrojos leader Diego Perez Henao, alias “Diego Rastrojo.” Both have since been extradited to Colombia.

Authorities also destroyed 36 clandestine landing strips for drug flights and seized 18 planes used for trafficking, reported AVN.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Venezuelan government will use these figures to show how it is making successful efforts in the war on drugs. The country was black-listed by the United States in September for failing “demonstrably ... to adhere to [its] obligations under international counter-narcotics agreements.”

A principal transit point for cocaine heading to Europe, Venezuela sees an estimated 200 tons of the drug pass through its territory annually according to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sources. Thus, while 2012’s seizure figures are impressive, they are tiny fraction of what could be the actual amount transiting though this Andean nation.

Aiding drug traffickers in the country are corrupt elements of the military known as the "Cartel of the Suns," (Cartel de los Soles). The loosely structured group is thought to be comprised of high-level officials within the army, navy and air force. For example, a former leader of Mexico's Beltran Leyva Organization declared in September that he was able to ship cocaine from Venezuela to Mexico with the help of Venezuelan generals.

In addition, while the capture of several top-level traffickers is promising, it also points to Venezuela's role as a refuge for powerful criminals. The arrest of El Loco Barrera was certainly a coup for the government, and highlighted its willingness to cooperate in multilateral efforts to detain drug lords; however, questions were raised as to how El Loco was able to remain in the country for so long without detection.

Crime has risen markedly in Venezuela under the administration of Hugo Chavez. Though one explanation could have to do with the regional dynamics of the drug trade, there is also a fear that government corruption and complicity could enable gangs to continue to flourish in Venezuela, meaning it will remain a key trafficking route for the foreseeable future.

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