Venezuela Hosts More Traffickers Than It Admits
Corruption and deceit mean Venezuela's role as major drug hub is under-reported.
The Venezuelan state of Apure is one of the busiest hubs for cocaine trafficked out of Colombia, which it borders. Security forces claim to be making progress there, seizing cocaine and dismantling airstrips in their fight against organized crime. "We are hitting drug trafficking hard all the time,” says Ramón Carrizalez, the governor of Apure. "Very few countries are carrying out a policy like ours." But local residents paint a different picture, saying that the area is inundated with low-flying planes, and is actually ruled by the FARC revolutionary guerrilla organization, which oversees drug shipments. The guerrillas reportedly intimidate local residents, collecting protection money from local businesses, ranchers and fishing camps along stretches of the Venezuela/Colombia border. “We all knew what was going on," says one citizen, referring to traffickers' control of the state's airstrips, "but no one said anything. What were we going to do about it? The one that should be doing something is the government. They should be constantly patrolling the area.” Luis Lippa, a former governor of Apure, agrees. “Our airspace has been taken over,” he says. “Our national territory has been reduced.”
Although the US has collaborated with governments in Mexico, Honduras and Colombia to crack down on drug trafficking, an antagonistic relationship with leftist President Hugo Chavez has hampered such efforts in Venezuela. Back in September, President Obama designated the country as failing to meet its obligation to crack down on organized drug crime, citing a federal report that says Venezuela is "one of the preferred trafficking routes out of South America" and has a "generally permissive and corrupt environment." In 2010, an estimated 24% of the cocaine shipped out of South America—over 200 tons—passed through Venezuela, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.