HomeNewsBriefVenezuela Archipelago, New Hotspot for Drug Smuggling
BRIEF

Venezuela Archipelago, New Hotspot for Drug Smuggling

CONTRABAND / 8 NOV 2019 BY VENEZUELA INVESTIGATIVE UNIT EN

The Los Roques Archipelago -- a group of islands off Venezuela's northern coast known for their white sand beaches and turquoise waters -- has become a staging ground for smuggling drugs and gold through the Caribbean.

On October 29, José Luis Pirela, the president of the Subcommission for the Fight Against Drugs, Terrorism and Organized Crime of Venezuela's National Assembly, said that an organized crime gang was operating from the islands off shore from Venezuela's Vargas state to move drugs and gold to Caribbean nations, especially Bonaire, El Pitazo reported.

Speaking to the National Assembly, Pirela alleged that the gang includes Carlos Betancourt and Noel Lugo, identifying them as the cousin and brother of Stella Betancourt. Since 2017, Stella Betancourt has been the head of government for the Francisco de Miranda island territory, which includes Los Roques. Between 2008 and 2017, Betancourt was governor of the state of Falcón, which is close to Los Roques and the Dutch Caribbean islands.

SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profiles

Pirela said that the gang was acting in partnership with an Italian businessmen with hotels and bars in Los Roques, and Venezuelan José Ramón Llavanera, who has been convicted of drug trafficking in the United States, according to El Pitazo.

Llavanera, according to Pirela's testimony, acts as an intermediary, organizing drug shipments between Los Roques and Bonaire. Pirela said that Llavanera "uses his own King 200 aircrafts" and that details of the planes would be given to appropriate "international organizations so investigations could be carried out."

Pirela said he planned to meet the governor of Bonaire, Edison Enrique Rijna, to exchange information on how the gang operates.

InSight Crime Analysis

The use of Los Roques to get drugs out of Venezuela makes sense. The archipelago lies only 176 kilometers -- or a 30-minute flight -- from Caracas and 167 kilometers from Bonaire in the Dutch Antilles.

The Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao are increasingly being used to smuggle illegal gold and move cocaine coming from Colombia via Venezuela. A tugboat registered to a Venezuelan company, for example, was recently seized off the coast of Aruba after two tons of cocaine were discovered onboard. After dozens of migrants drowned when their boat wrecked on its way to Curaçao, it was discovered that local gangs were using the migrant transports as cover for cocaine shipments.

The island nations, which have ties to the Netherlands, serve as a transshipment point to feed cocaine to Europe. They have also long been used as a transshipment point for drugs that are then moved to the United States.

SEE ALSO: Southern Venezuela: A ‘Gold Mine’ for Organized Crime

Los Roques has been in the spotlight before. In September 2019, the Venezuelan Ecological Society (Sociedad Venezolana de Ecología -- SVE) denounced the government of Nicolás Maduro for granting illegal concessions for infrastructure projects in the archipelago. The SVE acted after the Ministry of Tourism offered domestic and foreign investors the opportunity to build “high-level tourist accommodation" in Los Roques, despite Venezuelan laws prohibiting new construction inside national parks.

If Pirela's accusations prove correct, it could mean that the presence of foreign-run hotels in the region may be used to facilitate drug trafficking in the Caribbean.

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.

DONATE

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.

DONATE

Related Content

CARIBBEAN / 19 SEP 2022

Dominican officials have banned 12 Haitian gang leaders and one of its top politicians from entering the country.

BOLIVIA / 8 NOV 2022

The Amazon is one of the world’s most biodiverse regions, where wildlife trafficking threatens hundreds of thousands of species.

COLOMBIA / 26 MAY 2022

Until his death, Gentil Duarte was the most-wanted man in Colombia and one of South America's leading drug traffickers.

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Contributes Expertise Across the Board 

22 SEP 2023

This week InSight Crime investigators Sara García and María Fernanda Ramírez led a discussion of the challenges posed by Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s “Total Peace” plan within urban contexts. The…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Cited in New Colombia Drug Policy Plan

15 SEP 2023

InSight Crime’s work on emerging coca cultivation in Honduras, Guatemala, and Venezuela was cited in the Colombian government’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Discusses Honduran Women's Prison Investigation

8 SEP 2023

Investigators Victoria Dittmar and María Fernanda Ramírez discussed InSight Crime’s recent investigation of a massacre in Honduras’ only women’s prison in a Twitter Spaces event on…

THE ORGANIZATION

Human Trafficking Investigation Published in Leading Mexican Newspaper

1 SEP 2023

Leading Mexican media outlet El Universal featured our most recent investigation, “The Geography of Human Trafficking on the US-Mexico Border,” on the front page of its August 30…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime's Coverage of Ecuador Leads International Debate

25 AUG 2023

This week, Jeremy McDermott, co-director of InSight Crime, was interviewed by La Sexta, a Spanish television channel, about the situation of extreme violence and insecurity in Ecuador…