The Venezuelan regime built a narcotrafficking “super cartel” for the purpose of asymmetric warfare against the United States, U.S. think tank Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS) said in a late 2022 report.
According to SFS, the Venezuelan regime and its infamous Cartel of the Suns distribute about 450 tons of cocaine out of the global cocaine market of about 1,800 tons. This would mean that the Cartel of the Suns went from a 1 percent portion of the global market in 2010 to about 25 percent today.
“Drug trafficking can exist for purposes other than profit,” the report indicates. “That is especially true when we consider Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution that from the onset was dedicated to the development and deployment of illicit drugs for purposes of asymmetric warfare against the United States.”
The report credits Hugo Chávez with normalizing narcotrafficking networks and the transit of cocaine produced in neighboring Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia through Venezuela, turning the South American country into a “cocaine superhighway.” Chávez granted loyal military officers (who came to be known as the Cartel of the Suns) exclusive jurisdiction over ports, airports, railroads, highways, and territories in general, so that proceeds from drug distribution would benefit the regime.
In a late 2022 report, InSight Crime, an organization that studies organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, referred to Nicolás Maduro as a “criminal kingmaker” working in cahoots with the National Liberation Army (ELN) and some dissident factions of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Likewise, the SFS report notes, the Maduro regime’s dependence on cocaine has led it to forge deep ties with Mexican Jalisco New Generation and Sinaloa cartels.
FARC and Hezbollah
“The issue of drugs as a weapon is an idea originated by [former Cuban President] Fidel Castro, to intoxicate the American people,” Luis Fleischman, a sociology professor at Palm Beach State University in Florida, told Diálogo.
In his book Latin America in the Post-Chávez Era, Fleischman warned about the Venezuelan alliance with outlaw elements of the FARC and Hezbollah as well as drug cartels as part of asymmetrical warfare. “Today the FARC is divided, and Hezbollah has a full agenda with the problems in Syria. That doesn’t mean that danger is not still present,” Fleischman said, adding that drugs are managed by the entire Venezuelan regime, including the military.
Cuba, Russia, Iran, and China
The SFS report also notes that members of the Maduro regime received counterintelligence training from Cuba, Russia, Iran, and China giving them an advanced ability to use deception in many of their operations to penetrate adversary governments, such as Colombia and the United States.
Fleischman adds other problems to this scenario. “Russia is increasingly involved in Venezuela, particularly with NATO’s [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] reaction to its invasion of Ukraine,” he said. The expert also warned about the alliance between the Venezuelan regime and the Wagner Group, a paramilitary organization of Russian origin.
“The Wagner Group, a murderous group in this inhumane war against Ukraine, participated in the repression carried out by Maduro against its own citizens in early 2019. This is something the U.S. security establishment needs to take into account,” Fleischman said.
“Several investigations by independent media assure that some 400 members of the Wagner Group are in Venezuela in charge, among other activities, of appointing Nicolás Maduro’s security circle together with Cuban agents,” Infobae said in a September 2022 article.
“Iran and Cuba also supported Maduro’s repressive apparatus, something that, as the SFS points out, also becomes a threat to U.S. national security,” Fleischman said. According to the expert, the alliance between Venezuela, Iran, and Russia not only includes sanctions evasion, but could also include military agreements.
“Venezuela could serve not only as a defensive asymmetric warfare base, but as a launching pad for missiles and other means of direct aggression [against the United States] that could even include nuclear weapons,” he said.
“If this is not yet a real, fully developed scenario, it should be taken into account as a potential scenario. In that sense, the SFS report should be taken very seriously,” Fleischman concluded.