BRIEF

Venezuela Border State a Drug Trafficking Haven: NYT

VENEZUELA / 8 AUG 2012 BY ELYSSA PACHICO EN

The Venezuelan border state of Apure is one of the busiest transit areas for cocaine heading to the Caribbean, with much of the drug trade controlled by Colombian rebels, according to a New York Times report.

The Times reported that local residents say they are accustomed to the sound of low-flying drug flights overhead and the sight of patrols by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who protect drug shipments.

This evidence of how openly the drug trade is conducted in Apure, one of Venezuela’s poorest states, contradicts assertions by government officials that they are doing everything they can to combat organized crime in the region, the Times report said.

In a May news conference, the governor of Apure said the authorities had destroyed 36 hidden airfields in the state and had reduced the number of illicit flights detected by half. The Times visited one airstrip that had reportedly been destroyed by the army, and noted that “there were no signs that soldiers had blasted holes in the runway or taken other steps to prevent it from being used again.”

Colombia has long accused Venezuela of tolerating rebel presence in border states like Apure, Zulia, and Tachira. The FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) both keep encampments in these regions.

InSight Crime Analysis

Venezuelan security forces present cocaine seizures and the dismantling of airstrips in Apure as evidence of progress in their fight against organized crime, and argue that they lack the resources to do much more. On July 18 and July 23, the National Guard and the police in Apure announced seizures of 820 and 250 kilos of cocaine, respectively.

The judiciary has also made some effort to prosecute members of the security forces accused of links to the drug trade in Apure, recently presenting charges against nine former police officers.

The question is whether these are merely small-time seizures and prosecutions intended to mask the fact there is high-level tolerance of and involvement in drug trafficking across the border. As the Times report observed, the government has overstated its success in permanently dismantling many of Apure’s airstrips, casting doubt on claims that the government is doing everything it can to disrupt drug trafficking operations.

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