Authorities in Venezuela have accused the country’s ousted attorney general of running a multimillion-dollar extortion ring, while events on the Colombian border highlight how such political battles are distracting justice institutions from tackling important organized crime threats.
On August 16, Venezuelan officials raided the home of Luisa Ortega Díaz, the former attorney general who was removed from her position earlier this month after emerging as an outspoken government critic. Authorities also ordered the arrest of Ortega Díaz’s husband, Germán Ferrer.
Ortega’s replacement, Tarek William Saab, accused the pair of running a blackmail and extortion “mafia,” that earned the couple at least $6 million, reported the New York Times. According to the allegations, Ortega charged officials at the state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PdVSA) in exchange for dropping corruption investigations against them, reported Semana.
While political conflicts continue to occupy the country’s elite in Caracas, on the border with Colombia there are new indications that the reach of organized crime continues to expand amid a broader deterioration in the Venezuela’s security situation.
On August 17, Venezuela’s Interior Minister Néstor Reverol announced via Twitter that the National Guard (Guardia Nacional Bolivariana – GNB) had raided 26 cocaine crystallization laboratories in in the municipality of Jesús María Semprún, in the state of Zulia just 700 meters from the Colombian border.
According to the minister, authorities seized 3.2 tons of coca paste, 700 kilograms of cocaine, 36,500 liters of liquid chemicals and 9.65 tons of chemical solids, along with equipment for processing the paste into cocaine. However, no arrests were made during the raids, reported Noticias al Día.
The following day, Venezuelan officials began the process of repatriating the remains of three Colombian men found dead near the border with the Colombian city of Cúcuta.
The victims — who were wanted in Colombia on charges of murder, drug trafficking and weapons charges — were believed to be members of the criminalized paramilitary groups known as the BACRIM, or “bandas criminales” (“criminal bands”), which control contraband smuggling routes in the region, reported El Tiempo.
InSight Crime Analysis
The chaos and bitter disputes that have engulfed the Venezuelan Attorney General’s Office are just the latest developments in the political drama that is threatening the stability and credibility of the Venezuelan state.
The moves against Ortega have been decried by government opponents as part of a purge of critical political actors from within the ruling party, as she had broken ranks with the government by condemning its crackdown on opposition protesters and had pledged to investigate electoral fraud. However, the accusations against Ortega and her husband are also representative of security and justice institutions that are preoccupied with politics and power while organized crime flourishes under their noses.
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The events on the border with Colombia demonstrate this by casting light on one of Venezuela’s organized crime hotspots. The murders of the Colombians appear to be linked to a fierce territorial dispute between criminal networks that have a known presence on the Venezuelan border and that control cross-border criminal activities, specifically contraband smuggling and drug trafficking.
This is far from the first time violence linked to these groups has spilled across the border. In fact, these groups have even been reported to be recruiting among Venezuelans. The huge seizures and presence of cocaine laboratories reported on the Venezuelan side of the border meanwhile illustrate both the scale of drug trafficking in this region, and the encroachment into Venezuelan territory of the Colombian networks behind it.