HomeNewsBriefClandestine Airstrips, Drug Flights Becoming More Frequent Across Venezuela

Clandestine Airstrips, Drug Flights Becoming More Frequent Across Venezuela


Clandestine airstrips found in Venezuela and suspected drug flights leaving the country soared in 2019, with different parts of the country being used as aerial connection points, but the total amounts may still be far higher than previously thought. 

According to figures from the Venezuelan government, 23 light aircraft and 36 clandestine runways used for drug trafficking were either confiscated or destroyed in 2019. But other groups monitoring the situation claim that the country has far more illegal runways and that planes carrying drugs are seen on a daily basis.

National Assembly representative Juan Pablo Guanipa was quoted by El Universal as saying that 400 such runways exist in the state of Zulia alone, where members of state security forces and of criminal groups allegedly force landowners to let them build landing strips. "If we denounce them, they jail us, or we simply have to leave the farm because of the threats," one farmer in Zulia told El Pitazo.

One of the states where instances of landing strips and clandestine flights are most reported is Zulia. Located to the west of the country, bordering Colombia, the state is strategically located due to its proximity to Catatumbo, where coca production has increased.

Of the 36 clandestine runways destroyed by armed forces by August 2019, 31 were located in Zulia, according to Venezuela government statements.

SEE ALSO: Drug Flights Coming Through Guatemala Continue to Soar

Beyond Zulia, InSight Crime has identified another five states where national and local media reports where the existence of clandestine runways or seizures of drug flights have been reported: Apure, Amazonas, Falcón, Guárico and Cojedes.

One Venezuelan pilot, Yazenky Antonio Lamas Rondón, who used to work for Venezuela's first lady Cilia Flores and has since been extradited from Colombia to the United States, reportedly flew "over 100 drug flights" from the state of Apure to the Caribbean for a decade, El Espectador reported.

And in 2019, Spanish thinktank El Cano Royal Institute showed frequent drug flight connections from the Colombian departments of Guaviare, Guainía, Meta, Vichada and Arauca to the Venezuelan state of Apure.

Meanwhile, the central state of Guárico is reportedly being used to house some of the light aircraft used for these drug flights, according to El Pitazo. Over the last six years, a number of small planes have been seized in the national park of Aguaro Guariquito, where drug traffickers are believed to be modifying aircraft to allow them to carry heavier payloads. 

Drug flights from Venezuela are bound for much of Latin America and the Caribbean, with evidence of them landing in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Belize and even Mexico, as observed in distinct cases reported by CNN, El Heraldo and El Universal.

InSight Crime Analysis

Given Venezuela's importance for transnational drug trafficking and the plethora of criminal groups involved in this criminal economy, the highest estimates for the number of drug flights and airstrips may be falling short. 

Drug flights departed Venezuela every two days in 2017 and on a daily basis in 2018, according to statements made to CNN by a US government official. In 2019, this increased to five overnight flights departing Venezuela on the same day.

Residents of Apure and southern Zulia have told InSight Crime that they frequently see small aircrafts flying overhead. Additionally, the presence of clandestine runways at many of the local farms is an open secret. 

SEE ALSO: Drug Trafficking Within the Venezuelan Regime: The ‘Cartel of the Suns’

The role played by current or former members of the Venezuela armed forces is also worthy of note. In November 2019, an air force captain, Gino Alfonso Garcés Vergara, was linked to a complex drug trafficking plot involving who collaborated with Colombian and Mexican cartels, in a joint investigation conducted by Colombian police and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

And in December 2019, Guatemala shot down a plane loaded with drugs that was illegally entering the country. The pilot, who was killed, was identified as Lino Nevado Sthormes, a former Venezuelan Air Force pilot from Maracaibo, in the state of Zulia.

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

PRISONS / 13 AUG 2021

Political support from career criminals is usually a matter of skulduggery and campaign finance. But one prison gang in Venezuela…

COCAINE / 29 JUN 2021

César Emilio Peralta, alias “El Abusador,” was the Dominican Republic's most notorious drug trafficker, with a network across the Caribbean.


Once the purview of Mexican drug cartels, the production of pro-gang songs that soothe the egos of powerful criminal overlords…

About InSight Crime


Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…


Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…


World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…


InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…


Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…