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BRIEF

Venezuela Military Officials Piloted Drug Plane

CARTEL DE LOS SOLES / 20 NOV 2015 BY VENEZUELA INVESTIGATIVE UNIT EN

The latest developments in a drug trafficking case embroiling relatives of President Nicolas Maduro suggest that the military is actively involved in transporting cocaine to Haiti, inching investigations ever closer to the heart of the socialist regime, only weeks before elections.

New updates show that the recently arrested nephews of Venezuela's first lady Cilia Flores flew out of Simon Bolivar International Airport from a terminal reserved for government officials on a plane loaded with 800 kg of cocaine, reported Infobae and Fox News Latino.

Piloting the Cessna Citation Jet were members of the presidential security and transportation unit -- the Casa Militar -- Pedro Miguel Rodriguez, an active lieutenant colonel in the Venezuelan Air Force, and military official Pablo Urbano Perez.

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El Nacional reports that after arresting the presidential couple's relatives Efrain Antonio Campo Flores and Francisco Flores de Freitas, US DEA agents searched the jet and allowed it to return to Venezuela. According to ABC, New York authorities did not have time to produce official charges against the four other people flying to Haiti and they were not arrested, despite their presumed involvement in the scheme.

The informant that led to the arrest of Flores' nephews -- who are currently on trial in New York -- claims that the two regularly flew drugs out of Terminal 4 of Simon Bolivar airport, according to sources consulted by ABC. He also disclosed that both helped fund Maduro's 2013 presidential campaign using illicit funds.

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The noose is seemingly tightening around President Maduro, who will face legislative elections on December 6 plagued by yet more allegations of official involvement in drug trafficking accusations that have dogged his presidency.

Venezuela's ruling socialist party (PSUV), which has been hanging on to a dwindling support base since the death of President Hugo Chavez in 2013, is currently facing a barrage of international accusations of drug-related crimes and human rights abuses. Among those being investigated for drug trafficking are the first lady's son and Caracas judge Walter Jacobo Gavidia; Venezuela's number two, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, and Aragua State Governor Tarek El Aissami, reported El Nuevo Herald.

SEE ALSO:  Venezuela News and Profiles

This case not only implicates high-level government officials, it also draws attention to the direct collaboration of Venezuelan authorities and presidential security units in drug trafficking operations. As was the case with the Air France bust of 2013 -- in which an unprecedented 1.3 tons of cocaine were seized on a commercial flight that landed in Paris -- the movement of such heavy drug loads through Venezuela's main airport is impossible without the complicity of the National Guard (GNB).

The exposure of these different levels of connivance is bad news for Maduro's government, which is currently dragging behind the opposition with only 28 percent of voter support. And these tensions could reach breaking point over the coming weeks, with Maduro threatening to "take to the streets" militarily should he lose the upcoming elections for the National Assembly.

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