Venezuela will deploy the military to fight crime, a move that will likely increase concerns over the depth of corruption in the armed forces and the possibility that human rights could be compromised in the name of citizen security.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose death from cancer was announced this week, leaves behind a slew of half-started security initiatives, but overall his government proved woefully incapable of tackling violence and organized crime.
The rumors of President Hugo Chavez's imminent death, and the jostling for position among his possible successors, are creating conditions in which crime and violence are flourishing and likely to do so through 2013.
According to calculations made by a respected NGO, Venezuela is now far and away the most dangerous country in South America, with Caracas one of the most dangerous capitals in the world.
Hugo Chavez's victory in the presidential elections will give Venezuela's organized criminal syndicates another six years to grow and consolidate their power, in South America's most important transit nation for cocaine going to the US and Europe.
The term “Cartel of the Suns” (Cartel de los Soles) is used to describe shadowy groups inside Venezuela’s military that traffic cocaine. It is in some ways a misleading term, as it creates the impression that there is a hierarchical group, made up primarily of military officials, that sets the price of cocaine inside the country. There are cells within the main branches of the military -- the army, navy, air force, and National Guard, from the lowest to the highest levels -- that essentially function as drug trafficking organizations. However, describing them as a “cartel” in the traditional sense would be a leap. It is not clear how the relationship between these cells works, although rivalries between them has apparently turned deadly in the past.
Venezuela is a key transit country for drug shipments going from Colombia to the United States and Europe. The illegal drug trade has traditionally been controlled by foreign organizations, particularly Colombians, attracted by poor rule of law and corruption. However, there is evidence that beginning in the mid-2000s corrupt elements in the security forces stepped up their role in the business, forming a loose network dubbed the “Cartel de los Soles” (Cartel of the Suns).
A captured leader of the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) has accused Venezuelan generals of complicity in an international cocaine trafficking network that sent drug flights to Mexico, in the latest evidence of criminal ties in Venezuela's military.
Venezuelans like to blame Colombia for their problems with organized crime while Colombians say that Venezuela has its own powerful drug trafficking organizations working closely with members of the country's security forces. Both statements seem to be true.