The recent arrest of a former army captain who allegedly piloted drug planes for Venezuela's Cartel of the Suns could be an indication that the shadowy network of military officials is stepping up its involvement in cocaine trafficking.
Colombia's anti-narcotics police arrested Yazenky Antonio Lamas Rondón of Venezuela on June 9 at the El Dorado international airport in Bogotá. He is under investigation by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Interpol had a warrant for his arrest, according to El Tiempo.
The DEA reportedly suspects Lamas Rondón of piloting more than 100 drug flights over the past decade from Venezuela to countries in Central America and the Caribbean. One such plane allegedly laden with 1,600 kilos of cocaine left the Venezuelan state of Apure last November bound for Honduras.
According to El Tiempo, US authorities believe Lamas Rondón is one of the pilots working for the Cartel of the Suns, a term given to the network of corrupt Venezuelan military officials involved in cocaine trafficking. Unidentified judicial sources told El Tiempo that US authorities have asked the Colombian government to accelerate the timetable of Lamas Rondón's extradition process.
Lamas Rondón said he was in Bogotá to purchase purebred dogs, but authorities are reportedly investigating the possibility that he was attempting to establish contacts with Colombian neo-paramilitary and drug trafficking organization the Urabeños.
InSight Crime Analysis
Lamas Rondón's arrest provides a window into the operations of the secretive Cartel of the Suns. His case suggests some members of this organization are moving from facilitating drug trafficking to conducting it.
In the past, US authorities have accused former high-level military officials of being on the payroll of Colombian drug traffickers moving their product through Venezuela. But Lamas Rondón's alleged role implies more direct involvement in the trafficking system -- which would mean higher profits.
SEE ALSO: Cartel of the Suns News and Profile
This case follows reports from last November that Venezuelan military officials piloted a plane carrying 800 kilos of cocaine that was destined for Haiti. Two nephews of Venezuela's first lady were on board. They were arrested by Haitian authorities and handed over to the DEA.
Even as the Cartel of the Suns appears to be deepening its ties to the cocaine trade, the network's very existence may be in danger. US authorities are preparing drug trafficking cases against several high-level Venezuelan officials by collecting evidence provided by the growing number of former traffickers and confidants now in US custody. With Lamas Rondón's pending extradition, he could soon turn into yet another informant used by the United States to take down Venezuela's corrupt class of military officials.