Nearly 24 percent of global cocaine production transits through Venezuela, according to the 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment report of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The document, published on March 2, 2021, reaffirms the importance of the South American country as a transit point for drugs shipped to the United States.
According to the report, during the COVID-19 pandemic narcotraffickers resorted to using speedboats toward the so-called “Western Caribbean Vector,” where Honduras, Belize, and Nicaragua are located, and to a lesser degree toward the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Puerto Rico.
Colombian criminal organizations, the DEA report says, “continue to use Ecuador and Venezuela as transshipment points for cocaine shipments bound for Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.” In both cases, the drug is hidden in remote places “until maritime or aerial transportation can be secured.”
On March 7, the Puerto Rican newspaper El Vocero reported the seizure of 1.6 tons of cocaine at El Cocal beach, in the eastern region of the island. Two Dominicans, who according to the article, departed from Venezuela on a speedboat, moved the stash to that location, divided into 80 bales.
Similarly, on March 8, the Miami-based news channel EVTV reported that Honduran authorities had detained four Venezuelans who were carrying 700 kilograms of cocaine in a vessel, near the island of Cayo Gorda, on the Caribbean coast of Honduras.
Former head of the Bolivarian National Guard’s Anti-drug Command, Colonel (R) Jairo Coronel, a security consultant, stressed that due to the pandemic and interdiction operations, much of the cocaine produced has not reached its final markets. On April 1, 2020, U.S. Southern Command began counternarcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere, with the flow of narcotics from Venezuela as a key interdiction target.
As such, Col. Coronel said, there must have been an increase in drug prices in consumer markets and, at the same time, an accumulation of drug inventories in the countries of origin and transit, such as Venezuela.
“There is a lot of hidden merchandise in different parts of the Andean region, awaiting the right moment to be moved. An oversupply of drugs in the United States or Europe could occur at any time,” he said.
In the case of Venezuela, he said that the first spots to hide the drugs are in Alto Apure, Bolívar, and in the Catatumbo and Sur del Lago de Maracaibo areas, where in addition to caches, authorities found labs and clandestine airstrips. He added that criminals hide the drugs that enter through Apure and Bolívar at “intermediate points” in Guárico and Monadas, to later transfer them to Guiria, in the country’s northeast.
In its 2021 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, the U.S. Department of State said that Venezuela is a major country for cocaine transit by way of maritime, land, and air routes, adding that suspected drug trafficking flights take off for the most part from clandestine airstrips in Apure and Zulia states, on the Colombian border.
According to Jeremy McDermott, director of InSight Crime, an international organization specializing in threats to security in Latin America, the economic crisis hinders regular exports from Venezuela in which criminals could hide an illegal shipment. “So they ship it through countries like Suriname or French Guyana. They also use speedboats that reach larger ships on the coast to deliver the drug,” he said.
He said that, in addition to the National Liberation Army and dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish), members of the Clan del Golfo and mega-gangs, such as Tren de Aragua, are operating in Venezuela and may be negotiating the transfer of small drug shipments from the border between Venezuela and the Colombian department of Norte de Santander into the interior of the country.
“Without international cooperation, it is very difficult to reach the drug hideouts,” Col. Coronel said. “Once the shipments cross the border and enter Venezuela, they have to be tracked until they reach those hideouts. And this is a huge task,” he said.
In 2005, Venezuela ceased anti-drug cooperation agreements with the United States. In 2020, then-U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced a criminal indictment against Nicolás Maduro, service members, and cabinet ministers, linking them to drug trafficking activities, together with FARC dissidents.
According to the U.S. Department of State report, Venezuela does not share data on drug trafficking or provide evidence of illegal drug destruction to the United States.