Five police officers have been handed 26 year prison sentences for drug trafficking in Venezuela, in a case that represents a welcome move against corrupt elements in the country's security forces but is unlikely to be part of wider efforts to tackle endemic corruption.
The five former state police officers were sentenced alongside three civilians, two years after the recovery of more than a ton of drugs from a small aircraft on the Paraguana Peninsula, in the northern state of Falcon, reported El Universal.
According to El Nacional, the eight were detained after officers from the Special Actions Corps of Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations (Cicpc) learned of their activities and moved in while the men were transferring drugs into the aircraft, which was set to fly out of the country. The bust resulted in a shootout which left one National Guardsman and one civilian dead.
One of the former officials received a lesser sentence of 24 years, while two of the civilians were sentenced to 18 years and one to 17 years.
InSight Crime Analysis
Corruption is perhaps the biggest single factor fuelling drug trafficking in Venezuela, much of which is handled by the so-called Cartel de los Soles (Cartel of the Suns) -- the name given to the many corrupt factions of the security forces that are involved in the drug trade. Their role was emphasized by the recent discovery in France of 1.5 tons of cocaine on a plane that had departed a military-controlled airport in Venezuela, a discovery that also led to the arrests of military personnel.
By handing down such heavy sentences to the officers, it may be that Venezuelan authorities are seeking to show they are taking a hard line against this corruption, something President Nicolas Maduro has also begun to publically address.
SEE ALSO: Cartel de los Soles Profile
However, even if the courts and the president truly wish to tackle corruption, they will face an uphill battle. Not only are the Venezuelan security forces among the most corrupt in the region, according to NGO Transparency International, they are also political actors, especially the army, whose support is crucial to Maduro if he wishes to maintain his increasingly fragile political base.
Meanwhile, security in Venezuela continues to deteriorate, with the latest report from the Venezuelan Violence Observatory projecting that homicides are set to increase 23 percent in 2013, compared to last year.