Speculation has emerged that Venezuela's unilateral shutdown of its border with Colombia is intended to discourage the extradition of two suspected drug traffickers linked to Venezuelan security forces, raising the possibility the "Cartel of the Suns" is behind the border closure.
According to El Nuevo Heraldo, anonymous sources have characterized Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's decision to close the border with Colombia in the state of Tachira as retaliation for Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos approving US extradition requests for two alleged drug traffickers.
The two men in question are Colombian nationals Gersain Viafara Mina, alias "Eliseo," and Oscar Hernando Giraldo Gomez. Santos approved their extradition to the United States in late July and August, respectively.
Giraldo has confessed to participating in a cocaine trafficking scheme that allegedly involved mid- and high-ranking officers of the Venezuelan military, reported El Tiempo. He is expected to cooperate with US authorities in exchange for a reduced sentence.
This new speculation regarding the motivations for the border closure comes days after it emerged the original incident leading to the shutdown was possibly a spat between Venezuelan security forces involved in cross-border drug smuggling operations. Maduro, however, has insisted that contraband-smuggling paramilitary groups from Colombia were responsible for the incident.
Since the border closure, Maduro has moved around 2,000 troops to the region and has begun deporting Colombians living on the Venezuelan side of the border.
InSight Crime Analysis
Suggestions that Venezuelan authorities closed the border with Colombia in an attempt to protect military officers implicated in drug trafficking are not implausible. Indeed, there is a strong precedent for allegations of corruption in Venezuela's security forces, with high-ranking officers believed to lead a drug trafficking network known as the "Cartel de los Soles," or Cartel of the Suns.
For instance, a recently-release book leveled serious drug trafficking allegations against Diosdado Cabello, the President of Venezuela's National Assembly and an active member of the country's armed forces. Cabello is currently being investigated by the US Department of Justice on suspicion of money laundering and drug trafficking.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Cartel de los Soles
In the end, however -- although hybrid paramilitary-criminal groups from Colombia do pose a real security threat in Venezuela -- the motivations behind the border closure appear more political than a genuine attempt at clamping down on lucrative cross-border contraband smuggling. Facing parliamentary elections in December, Maduro's heavy handed response along the border may be an attempt to exert more authority in a region that has been at the center of anti-Maduro opposition movements.