The authenticity of a photograph purporting to show one of two "nacro-planes" apparently shot down by a special armed forces unit in the south of Venezuela has been called into question, raising doubts about the integrity of the security forces involved in anti-narcotics operations.
Vladimir Padrino Lopez, head of the Strategic Operational Command of the armed forces (Ceofanb), wrote on his Twitter account on October 12 that his unit had "detected and immobilized" two planes "associated with drug trafficking" in the south of Apure state, near the Colombian border (see below). He later put up a photo showing an incinerated airplane, which he claimed was one of the two shot down.
However, a retired air force general and a lawyer have raised doubts about the event, reported El Nacional.
Manuel Andara Clavier noted that the photo made it appear the plane was destroyed once on the ground, and there was no sign of the drugs or crew members. Lawyer Rocio San Miguel expressed concerns over the apparently unregulated nature of the operation, stating "It is unknown who authorized this... it should be clarified... where the attacked planes came from, what their destination was, and the results of the operation."
InSight Crime Analysis
Earlier this month, following the discovery of over a ton of cocaine aboard an Air France flight that left from Caracas, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced that the country had approved a law allowing for any drug plane entering Venezuelan air space to be shot down. In this context, the alleged October 12 operation could be an attempt to show that the country is following through on its anti-drug commitments.
However, the questions raised by Andara and San Miguel are cause for concern. Given the history of Venezuela's security forces, who have been frequently accused of corruption and ties to drug trafficking, the faking of a drug plane shoot-down for good publicity would not be out of the question.
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The New York Times reported last year that the state of Apure is a major transit area for Caribbean-bound cocaine, and that, despite government claims to the contrary, security forces did not appear to be doing all they could to stem the constant flow of drug flights. However, US diplomatic sources tell InSight Crime they have been pleasantly surprised by Venezuela's increased vigilance of its illicit air traffic; flights arriving to Honduras from Venezuela are also reportedly lower in 2013.