Spanish authorities announced on April 29 the seizure of 4 000 kilograms (4 metric tons) of cocaine aboard a ship off the coast of Vigo. Law enforcement officials say the ship originated in Venezuela, where the drugs were initially loaded.
This seizure was the latest blow to Galician drug traffickers who operate in the Galicia region making it the main European entry point for cocaine from Latin America. Officials highlighted the multinational combined effort that lead to the seizure, which involved the Spanish Navy, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the British National Crime Agency, and the Colombian National Police.
This latest haul also illustrated once again Venezuela’s role in drug trafficking, with the Nicolás Maduro regime facilitating the passage of drugs in and out of the country. In a March 26 indictment, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) charged Maduro and a number of high-ranking colleagues (commonly known as the Cartel of the Suns) of narco-terrorism and other illicit activities, in partnership with former guerrilla group and now dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish) for the past 20 years. DOJ officials also went on to state that by approximately 2004, the U.S. Department of State estimated that 250 or more metric tons of cocaine were transiting through Venezuela each year. There is now a $15 million reward for information leading to Maduro’s arrest.
In that same indictment, U.S. officials provided examples of cartel members’ involvement in drug trafficking to Europe. In September 2013, Diosdado Cabello, the head of Venezuela’s illegitimate National Constituent Assembly, and former intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal, were alleged to have sent 1.3 metric tons of cocaine to France. In 2017, Spain seized 2,500 kg (2.5 metric tons) of cocaine on a ship coming from Venezuela. Carvajal is now currently in hiding in Spain after a Spanish court approved his extradition to the United States in November 2019.
In an effort to deter and disrupt further drug trafficking in the Western Hemisphere, the U.S. announced a massive new counternarcotics operation in cooperation with 22 partner nations from the region. During a teleconference with reporters on April 17, U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, spoke about transnational criminal organizations (TCO) that deal in drugs, weapons, and people, making it a $90 billion-per-year illicit organization. Adm. Faller added that malign actors, like the Maduro regime, thrive on the instability created by these TCOs.
“Maduro and his cronies have been indicted as drug traffickers, and they profit enormously from illicit trade — a 50 percent increase in the illicit drug trafficking into and out of Venezuela in recent years,” Adm. Faller said. “That makes the narcotraffickers who work in and out of Venezuela a target for our disruption, dismantlement, and defeat operations like any other transnational criminal organization.”
Adm. Faller also said that the operation was not specifically geared toward Maduro, but more toward the destabilizing effects of transnational criminal organizations.
“The goal of this operation is to enhance security to save lives, not militarize the Caribbean or the Pacific and destabilize it,” he added.