Since April 2020, U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) has seen an increase in narcotrafficking through and from Venezuela toward Central America and Europe, two U.S. government officials said on August 28.
“Venezuela has become a criminal paradise […] for narcoterrorists and drug traffickers,” U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Andrew Tiongson, SOUTHCOM director of Operations, said.
In a teleconference with journalists, Rear Adm. Tiongson said that his team has seen an increase both in the flow of narcotics and in flights leaving Venezuela and passing through Central American countries, including Guatemala.
The head of operations explained that, due to COVID-19 and the counternarcotics operations that the United States launched, narcotraffickers have had to change routes and methods to reach their objectives.
“We’ve seen […] that traffickers are transitioning methods because of the port closures, the airport closures. The drug traffickers have had to adapt, and they have,” Ambassador Jean Manes, SOUTHCOM’s civilian deputy to the commander and senior foreign policy advisor, said.
Rear Adm. Tiongson said that his unit was working on “detecting, disrupting, and defeating drug smugglers,” and he emphasized that the U.S. Coast Guard had recently seized more than 12,000 kilograms of cocaine and marijuana in the area of operations.
“These operations are a significant part of our enduring commitment to our partners in the region,” he said.