Venezuela has recently seen an upsurge in narcotrafficking operations, gold and petroleum smuggling and corruption in its ports and customs. Venezuela has become a major hub of organized crime in South American, where criminal organizations mostly use violence to command illicit economies and raise money.
According to a report by the Venezuelan branch of the nonpartisan organization Transparency International, these activities generate approximately $9.4 billion in revenue yearly for criminal organizations that receive backing from dishonest officials.
As the standard of living for 90% of the population continues to decline, the report Illicit Economies under the Cover of Corruption reveals the support of corrupt officials to criminal groups.
The volume of illegal operations accounts for 21% of the country’s GDP, which amounts to $43.44 billion, according to figures from the Venezuelan economics and finance consultancy Ecoanaltica.
Coca plantations and cocaine production
According to InSight Crime, cocaine is produced in Venezuela near the border with Zulia. The locality also serves as a major transit point for drug shipments to the Caribbean and Central America.
The group also discovered indications of growing coca planting as well as cocaine manufacture facilities in Apure. There is a concern that if the current growth rate is sustained, in three years it could overtake Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia as the world’s fourth-largest supplier of cocaine. If this happens, it will no longer be dependent on cocaine from Colombia anymore.
The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that between 200 and 250 metric tons of cocaine are expected to depart Venezuela each year. This accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the estimated global output.
Collusion between Organized Crime and Corrupt Politicians in Narcotrafficking operations
The Transparency International report identifies 13 criminal organizations that are supported by corrupt government officials and the military. These cartels are active in 13 different Venezuelan states.
The identified criminal organizations include –
- The National Liberation Army
- RAF dissidents
- Tren de Guyana
- Tren de Aragua
- The Negro Fabio
- The Juancho gang,
- The Yeico Masare Armed Group
- The Peace Squads (Cuadrillas de Paz)
- The Toto and Zacarias gang
Although it is the criminal groups that move the cocaine, it is state officials that shape and control operations in Venezuela, according to InSight Crime, a group that researches organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean. The military and the police contain drug trafficking cells, known as the Cartel of the Suns. These are directly involved in the transportation of drugs across the entire nation.
Transparency International points at the Nicolás Maduro regime’s lack of cooperation with international organizations to combat narcotrafficking, the lack of initiatives to gather and disseminate information on criminal activity, the centralization of military and judicial power, and the pervasive culture of corruption as being the main factors that are fuelling the growth and proliferation of organized crime in Venezuela.
Furthermore, Insight Crime claims that the geopolitical axis connecting Havana, Moscow, and Caracas through the intelligence agencies is enabling the consolidation of the criminal state in Venezuela.
While the main focus of organized crime in Venzuela is narcotrafficking, these criminal organizations are also dabbling in the smuggling of gold, fuel, weapons and ammunition.
The Transparency International report also addresses the destructive and illegal actions perpetuated by the Orinoco Mining Arc over the past two years. Deforestation, soil erosion, and contamination is rampant.
As the study makes clear, organized crime in Venezuela is a serious problem that not only contributes to the country’s high murder rate but also its staggering levels of corruption.
The collusion between corrupt politicians and criminal organizations in narcotrafficking operations has created a powerful and dangerous alliance that is difficult to break. If Venezuela is ever going to overcome its current crisis, it will need to address the issue of organized crime and root out the corrupt politicians who are protecting these criminals.
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