HomeNewsAnalysisMexican Cartels – Venezuela’s Uninvited Guests Here to Stay
ANALYSIS

Mexican Cartels – Venezuela’s Uninvited Guests Here to Stay

MEXICO / 3 APR 2020 BY VENEZUELA INVESTIGATIVE UNIT EN

Talk of Mexico’s cartels in Venezuela has become commonplace, so much so that one town has been re-baptized after one of the world’s most notorious criminal groups: the Sinaloa Cartel.

In San Felipe, a village near Machiques de Perijá in the northwestern state of Zulia, hearing Mexican accents has become routine. Local residents near the border with Colombia say that the presence of Mexicans is so strong the town has been unofficially renamed Sinaloa.

Sources on the ground provided InSight Crime with a range of evidence they say confirms the presence of emissaries from Mexican criminal groups. Ranchers, local manufacturers and residents have all witnessed luxury vehicles entering town, parties blaring with narcocorridos, increased demand for prostitution and other abnormalities that have changed everyday life.

“Sinaloa isn’t just a random name, many of the pilots [of drug planes] are Mexican. We’ve seen them talking in hotels, and a person with this accent is easy to remember. They call this town of ours Sinaloa,” one local told InSight Crime on the condition of anonymity.

SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profiles

However, narco-culture isn’t the only thing the Mexicans have brought with them. San Felipe’s residents have been pressured into converting basic landing strips into sites able to accommodate planes carrying large amounts of cash and tons of drugs. Main roads, including that which connects the municipalities of Machiques de Perijá and Colón, have also been co-opted for these purposes, Infobae reported.

Local news outlet La Verdad reported on an incident from September 2019 when Venezuela’s Integral Aerospace Defense Command (Comando de Defensa Aeroespacial Integral – CODAI) allegedly detected two drug flights allegedly belonging to the Sinaloa Cartel.

InSight Crime Analysis

Venezuela has played a key role in the international drug trade, attracting the interests of a wide range of organized crime groups dedicated to trafficking drugs. The presence of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel comes as no surprise.

That said, Venezuela is not a primary transit point for US-bound cocaine, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) own data. “US officials have frequently stated that far more cocaine is trafficked through the so-called ‘Eastern Pacific’ route [through southwest Colombia and Ecuador] than through Venezuela,” according to a recent report from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

Nonetheless, around 400 clandestine airstrips may have been taken over by Mexican traffickers in Zulia alone, with the help and support of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional — ELN), in order to land flights and send others off to the Caribbean and Central America. The border towns of Jesús María Semprún, Machiques and Rosario de Perijá have become preferred places to buy and sell shipments filled with weapons, money and drugs.

SEE ALSO: Clandestine Airstrips, Drug Flights Becoming More Frequent Across Venezuela

Mexican traffickers arrive at the homes of farmers and local producers offering large sums of money — in the neighborhood of between $40,000 and $60,000 — to use existing airstrips or to build new ones for drug planes to land on and take off from, according to several local farmers in Zulia who spoke to InSight Crime on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Those who don’t cooperate, however, reportedly run the risk of being incriminated with propellers, gas canisters and other spare parts left on their land that could later be used against them, according to local sources in Zulia.

And there have been cases of Venezuelan air force personnel collaborating with Mexican cartels. Former captain Gino Alfonso Garcés Vergara, for example, received $500,000 in exchange for allowing narco-flights loaded with drugs to pass through Venezuelan airspace undetected. 

National Assembly Vice President Juan Pablo Guanipa has voiced his concerns about the presence of drug trafficking groups in this region, according to El Pitazo. Local farmers and manufacturers are subjected to constant threats, preventing them from speaking out about the issue, according to Guanipa. In 2015, for example, farmer Gaspar Enrique Rincón Urdaneta was murdered after making his own concerns known.

But this isn’t the only evidence of links between the Venezuelan government and Mexican cartel emissaries. In June 2019, Prison Minister Iris Varela confirmed three Mexican nationals had escaped from jail after being captured on drug trafficking charges. The three allegedly secured their escape using information about internal logistics that was filtered to them and through open access to weapons.

The steady flow of Colombian cocaine and the silence of the Venezuelan government has made it so that Mexico’s powerful drug cartels feel right at home in Venezuela.

Compartir icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content

PRISONS / 22 JUN 2011

As the stand-off in a Venezuela prison continues, the government has pledged to invest in reforming the system.

COLOMBIA / 21 MAY 2018

Colombia and Venezuela have shared criminal dynamics for decades. Colombia has pushed cocaine through Venezuela on its journey to US and European markets, while Venezuela’s contraband fuel has…

COLECTIVOS / 24 NOV 2014

A recent clash between Venezuela's collectives and police -- which may have led to the removal of the country's Interior…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…