The arrests of two retired high-ranking officers in Venezuela's National Guard for drug trafficking may be the result of political maneuverings, rather than an effort to clean up corruption in the country's security forces.
As part of a new government security initiative, the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB by its Spanish initials) recently captured Vassyly Kotosky Villarroel Ramirez, alias "Potro," and Robert Alexander Pinto Gil, GNB commander Nestor Reverol said in a press conference. (See video below)
Villarroel and Pinto are both former members of the GNB themselves, retiring with the ranks of captain and lieutenant, respectively. Villarroel is believed to have provided security and logistics for Colombian and Mexican organized crime groups shipping drugs to North America.
Villarroel's former associates allegedly include Colombian drug traffickers Daniel "El Loco" Barrera and Javier Antonio Calle Serna, alias "Comba," a former leader of criminal organization the Rastrojos. He is also believed to have worked with Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, Zetas, and Beltran Leyva Organization.
The former GNB captain was sought by local authorities since 2008 and US officials since 2011. The US Treasury Department placed Villarroel on its kingpin list in 2013 and Interpol put out a red alert for his capture in 2014.
Former GNB Lieutenant Pinto is accused of organizing drug trafficking activities in central and eastern Venezuela. He was initially captured in 2010 with 336 kilos of cocaine, but later managed to escape authorities.
InSight Crime Analysis
The timing of the recent arrests is curious. Several former and current GNB officers have been accused of drug trafficking, yet Venezuelan authorities have been slow to address issues of corruption within the force. The same is true for the other branches of Venezuela's military, in which corrupt officials involved in cocaine trafficking make up the shadowy criminal network known as the Cartel of the Suns.
SEE ALSO: Cartel of the Suns News and Profile
This high level of impunity for Venezuelan military officials suggests the government's new security initiative may not have been the primary motive behind the arrests of Villarroel and Pinto, as the GNB indicated. Although few definitive conclusions can be drawn so far, it is worth noting that Venezuela is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in December, and some high-profile captures could be key in helping the ruling party (PSUV) maintain its majority in the national assembly.
Indeed, the Venezuelan government has repeatedly shown its willingness to prioritize political issues over improving the country's security situation. The government has even admitted to hiding unflattering crime statistics from the public.