Despite the season, there hasn’t been a lot of occasion for good cheer in Venezuela recently. President Hugo Chavez has side-stepped recent Congressional gains by the opposition by asking for, and receiving, emergency powers to rule by decree for 12 months. He claims he needs the powers to respond to devastating floods that have left over 140,000 homeless, but few observers believe this. Chavez will claim to be responding to the emergency, but his real goal will be strengthening his control over the economy and redistributing yet more wealth from the country’s upper classes to its masses of poor. There is also concern amongst observers that Chavez might attempt to clamp down on the opposition and hostile media outlets. In other words, the news out of Latin America’s oil giant is, as usual, depressing. Even the recent news that Venezuela has been cooperating with the United States in an increasingly successful anti-drug campaign serves only to draw attention to the bleak reality that Hugo Chavez’s regime plays a large and growing role in the international distribution of illegal drugs.
During the just-concluded 2010 calendar year, Venezuela arrested more than 12,000 for offenses relating to narcotics trafficking. This represents a major spike over prior years. Venezuela has even extradited several major crime figures to the United States to face prosecution. While not particularly eager to publicize its cooperation with America, the government has certainly not hesitated to boast of its recent successes in the war on drugs; the state news agency, AVN, has boasted that the arrests show that Venezuela’s military is playing an important part in battling a global scourge.
That’s true, as far as it goes — any progress in combating the smuggling of drugs, which destroy lives in North America and fund various violent causes abroad, is to be welcomed. But while acknowledging Venezuela’s recent successes, it is important to note the irony of Hugo Chavez’s government touting its victories in the war on drugs. Venezuela’s active role in the smuggling of drugs out of Latin America into the Western world has long been a known secret. Any recent claims that Chavez’s government is taking a hard line against the narcotics trade must be carefully scrutinized — and Chavez’s record does not fare well under that kind of attention. The amount of cocaine being moved through Venezuela has increased at least 500% since 2004, and by some estimates, fully half the cocaine reaching European markets was shipped from Venezuelan ports.
Some of the country’s involvement is indirect, or at least unintentional. Venezuela’s role as a transit point for the smuggling of drugs has exploded during the last five years, according to Caribbean security issues expert Anthony Maingot, because the country ended all collaborative anti-narcotics efforts with the United States, allowing drug gangs to proliferate and causing a dramatic spike in the quantity of cocaine moving through Venezuela. Further, if elements within the military’s upper echelons choose to enrich themselves by dabbling in the drug trade on the side, Chavez might prefer to turn a blind eye and preserve the military’s loyalty rather than risk eroding his support amongst the commanders by asking too many questions about their burgeoning bank accounts.
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