A string of recent drug trafficking allegations against top figures in Venezuela's ruling political party could have a serious impact on the country's pivotal upcoming elections.
According to El Nuevo Herald, US authorities are investigating Walter Jacobo Gavidia, a Caracas Metropolitan Area judge and son of Venezuelan First-Lady Cilia Flores, for suspected drug trafficking.
The report follows closely the arrest of two of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's relatives in Haiti, and their subsequent extradition to the United States on drug trafficking charges.
After their arrest, Efrain Antonio Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Freitas spoke extensively with authorities, El Nuevo Herald reported, citing sources close to the case. The two allegedly gave information on their drug trafficking network, as well as details on the group's money laundering operations. They also purportedly mentioned the head of Venezuela's National Assembly Diosdado Cabello and Aragua state governor Tarek El Aissami as accomplices, the sources stated.
US investigators already suspect Cabello and El Aissami as major players within Venezuela's drug trafficking underworld, El Nuevo Herald added.
Cabello has also recently been accused of money laundering by Panama's former ambassador to the Organization of American States Guillermo Cochez, who was set to file a formal criminal complaint with Panama's Attorney General on November 18, reported EFE.
According to El Nuevo Herald's sources, US investigators have sealed indictments for a number of other Venezuelans, but are still withholding names.
InSight Crime Analysis
Drug trafficking allegations against those close to Venezuela's President Maduro, as well as other members of the ruling socialist party (PSUV), occur in the context of Venezuela's upcoming December 6 parliamentary elections. The PSUV is anticipated to do poorly, with a recent poll showing 63 percent of voters favoring the opposition, and only 32 percent the PSUV.
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Allegations against high-ranking PSUV officials, and their associates, may tip this balance further. Already, surveys suggest a growing percentage of Venezuelans believe government agencies are involved in drug trafficking and organized crime. As such, continued suggestions of official corruption may feed into popular frustrations over the country's economic issues and rampant crime, turning voters against Maduro's party on election day.
A loss at the polls would be of serious concern for PSUV officials implicated in criminal activity, especially if the US does possess sealed indictments, which could open the possibility of fates similar to Campo Flores and Flores de Frietas. Moreover, these two men reportedly face up to 30 years in prison, and may be feeling the pressure to provide names and other valuable information to the US Drug Enforcement Administration in a bid for leniency.