Since the 1980s, drug cartels have always dreamed of operating in a narco-state. From Pablo Escobar and his murderous Medellín Cartel to Joaquin Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel, different cartels have searched for ways to hold absolute power over their governments, said former President of Colombia Andrés Pastrana in an interview with El Nuevo Herald in October 2018.
According to an article published in December 2018 by the Spanish newspaper El Independiente “during the 1982 parliamentary election in Colombia, Pablo Escobar managed to be elected as an alternate member of the Chamber of Representatives. He leveraged this position to gain popular support, overseeing the construction of community projects such as soccer fields, parks, and housing projects for local communities.”
This same thirst for power was replicated at a larger scale in Venezuela. “What [Hugo] Chávez did was create drug corridors, which facilitated the export of illicit drugs to Europe,” Pastrana, said. Chávez also “gave the Colombian guerrillas safe havens in Venezuela,” he added in an interview with Mundo in October 2018.
According to a Voice of America article published in March 2020, this relationship flourished as trust was established between drug trafficking organizations and the Chávez government, where Chávez would authorize the exchange of military-grade weapons for cocaine. The illicit substance was then loaded onto aircraft that took off from clandestine airstrips in the Venezuelan jungle en route to the United States, refueling in Honduras and Caribbean islands.”
In another report published in March of this year, the Colombian daily El Espectador said Chávez was “instrumental to the implementation of the Cartel of the Suns. “Not only did he create safe havens for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [FARC, in Spanish],” but “his charismatic and energetic personality gave hope to those Venezuelans who like him were brought up in the working class.” Chávez was able to spread a sense of belonging to those communities who “felt forgotten by the system,” he understood the power of the people and abused their trust to create a “narco empire” in Venezuela,” the article added.
Moreover in March 2020, a Washington Post article also mentions that this “empire” was then transferred from Chávez to Nicolás Maduro in 2013 after Chávez died. According to the March 26, 2020 U.S. Department of Justice indictment Maduro “helped manage and, ultimately, lead the Cartel of the Suns as he gained power in Venezuela […] While pursuing these and other objectives, Nicolás Maduro Moros negotiated multi-ton shipments of FARC-produced cocaine.”
To bring these criminals to justice and assist partner nations in the region, U.S. Southern Command is currently enhancing counter-narcotics operations in Latin America and the Caribbean.