Venezuela is no longer just a transit country for drugs, as Venezuelans are involved in the first phases of cocaine production, Venezuelan experts and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said.
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), a body of the United Nations (U.N.), said in its 2019 report, published February 27, 2020, that 33 cocaine labs had been detected and dismantled in Venezuelan territory near the Colombian border in 2018. According to the INCB, only six similar facilities were detected in 2016.
“In addition to cocaine hydrochloride, the traffickers introduce coca base paste from Colombia to get it processed outside of the country, as verified in drug seizures carried out in international waters and in other countries of the region,” the INCB said in its annual report.
Javier Tarazona, head of the Venezuelan NGO Fundaredes, which advocates for human rights and democracy, explains that this increase in the amount of labs found in Venezuela is the result of an “evolution.”
“These are not rudimentary or improvised efforts. These are groups that want to compete in the international markets, so that’s why they set up bases in Venezuela,” Tarazona said.
He added that “those in charge of illicit crops in Colombia are relocating” to Venezuelan territory, especially to the mountains in the Zulia state towns of Jesús María Semprún, Catatumbo, Guajira, Lossada, and Machiques de Perijá. These locations are where the National Bolivarian Armed Force has reported finding the most drug labs.
Mildred Camero, former president of the National Commission Against the Illicit Use of Drugs of Venezuela (the current National Anti-Drug Office), said that the changes are not only related to the use of the national territory to produce drugs, but also to the participation of Venezuelans in different parts of this process, from coca growing to distribution and trade.
“There are groups within the Venezuelan youth that are involved in coca crops,” Camero said. “These are boys who get paid $10 for each bag of coca leaves.”
Many of them cross the border to work on crops and harvest coca leaves. But according to Camero, this dynamic “will create in Venezuela a population that engages in growing [drugs] in their own country.”
“They are school dropouts who might create a generational problem in the long term, with consequences for the democratic stability of the country,” she said.
In addition to identifying Venezuela as a country that contributes to cocaine production, the INCB recognized for the first time the existence of the Cartel of the Suns, a narcotrafficking mafia led by Venezuela’s military high command and members of the Nicolás Maduro regime.
For Tarazona, the presence of Colombian guerrillas on Venezuelan soil, especially the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish), the National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish), and the Popular Liberation Army (EPL, in Spanish), and their connections to the Cartel of the Suns explain the country’s evolution from a drug transit into a drug producing country. The presence of Colombian guerrillas and the regime’s support, said Tarazona, are alarming.
“The worst is that FARC leaders, such as Iván Márquez and Jesús Santrich, among others, operate from the Miraflores Presidential Palace, and that the leadership in Caracas protects and funds them and treats them like ministers with escorts,” Tarazona told the Spanish newspaper ABC Internacional.