HomeNewsAnalysisWeekly InSight: Is Venezuela a Mafia State?

Weekly InSight: Is Venezuela a Mafia State?


In our May 17 Facebook Live session, co-director Jerry McDermott and Spanish editor Ronna Rísquez explained the factors that have transformed Venezuela into a "mafia state" and made the country an organized crime hub for the region.

The investigation "Venezuela: A Mafia State?" is the product of three years of field research in several countries. It exposed how organized crime, corruption and drug trafficking permeate the highest levels of Nicolás Maduro’s government.

"The most frightening thing was discovering the reach of organized crime in the country," said McDermott.

From the start of the investigation, InSight Crime had information suggesting that around 20 Venezuelan government officials were in some way involved in drug trafficking. By the end of the process, out list has expanded to include the names of 123 high-ranking members of the regime. Some 30 of them are listed in one of the chapters of the investigation, dedicated to the "Cartel of the Suns."

Moreover, the investigation identified 14 state institutions that had, or have, been infiltrated by drug trafficking, something which McDermott highlights as one of the strongest factors that point to Venezuela being a mafia state.

SEE MORE: Venezuela News and Profile

The first part of the session delved deeper into the Cartel of the Suns, a loose-knit drug trafficking structure made-up of military and Venezuelan officials, who took advantage of the praetorian structure of the state to traffic drugs. This cartel is not a well structured one, added McDermott, saying: "It’s more like a series of criminal networks that occasionally confront each other, but all of them have one thing in common: links to high ranking members of the regime."

Diosdado Cabello, arguably one of the most influential living members of the regime in Venezuela, has been accused multiple times of being part of this cartel, but so far these claims have been backed by questionable evidence and witnesses. With all the power and influence that Cabello possesses, however, the possibility that he remains unaware of drug trafficking dynamics in the country seems farfetched. A source from the United States Department of Justice told InSight Crime that there is an ongoing case against him.

The second part of the conversation focused on the impact that Venezuelan organized crime has on the region. Venezuela is exporting criminality to other countries such as Honduras. McDermott explained how one specific aerial route was opened between the two countries, which ended up becoming a route to transport cocaine, avoiding Colombian and US radars on the way.

The Dominican Republic is another country that has a connection with organized crime in Venezuela. Between 120 and 150 tons of cocaine pass through its territory, much of which leaves from the Venezuelan coast.

McDermott explained how when the fieldwork was carried out, InSight Crime was able to talk to leaders of the "colectivos," which grew in power after the coup against Hugo Chávez in 2002. But the colectivos have become increasingly criminalized.

A similar story is that of the "pranes," prison crime bosses and gangs who have proliferated since the creation of the Ministry of Popular Power for the Penitentiary Service (Ministerio del Poder Popular para el Servicio Penitenciario). McDermott highlighted the actions of the then-prison minister Iris Varela, who handed over the internal power of the prisons to the pranes in an effort to bring down riots and homicides. The "pranes" have outgrown the prisons and are now involved in criminal networks that have control over locel drug trafficking and illegal mining.

Lastly, they spoke about the impact that Colombian organized crime has in Venezuela, through cocaine and guerrilla groups that have infiltrated the country. McDermott also talked Venezuela's impact on other countries, referring to migration, the upcoming elections, the Colombia peace process and the dissidence of the guerrillas that have established themselves next to the Venezuelan border.

Watch the full video of the Facebook Live discussion (in Spanish) below:

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


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.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content


Various criminal groups made up of former Colombian paramilitaries, known as BACRIM, are present in Venezuela, using the country to run…

PRISONS / 26 JUL 2011

Venezuela’s newly appointed prison minister has promised sweeping reforms to tackle overcrowding and violence in the country’s penal system.


The presidents of Colombia and Venezuela have reiterated their promise to crack down on contraband along their shared border. At…

About InSight Crime


Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…


InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…


Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…


Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…


Informing US State Department and European Union

1 APR 2022

InSight Crime Co-director McDermott briefed the US State Department and other international players on the presence of Colombian guerrillas in Venezuela and the implication this has for both nations.  McDermott…