Venezuela, Safe Haven for Mexican Narcotraffickers

Venezuela, Safe Haven for Mexican Narcotraffickers

By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo
May 20, 2020

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The Sinaloa Cartel, a Mexican criminal organization that engages in narcotrafficking, is strengthening its power and base in Venezuela to smuggle drugs, with the support of the Nicolás Maduro regime.

In its report Mexican Cartels – Venezuela’s Uninvited Guests Here to Stay, InSight Crime, a non-profit journalism and investigative organization specialized in organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, describes how members of the Sinaloa Cartel live in San Felipe, a municipality of Machiques de Perijá, in the Venezuelan state of Zulia, one of the most sought after routes for its border with Colombia and its outlet to the Caribbean. Residents told InSight Crime that the organization has such a strong presence that now the town is informally referred to as “Sinaloa.”

The investigation indicates that the cartel is using 400 clandestine airstrips, where it operates with the Venezuelan Air Force and the narcotrafficking and U.S.-designated terrorist organization National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish) to exchange weapons and dollars for drug shipments. According to Insight Crime, Sinaloan operators pay about $60,000 for each illegal landing.

“Since the last stages of the Chávez regime and throughout the entire Maduro regime so far, Venezuela has become a safe haven for criminals, who store and move large amounts of narcotics to the United States, Europe, and Asia,” Armando Rodríguez Luna, project director at the Mexican nongovernmental organization Collective for Security Analysis with Democracy told Diálogo. “The cartel has funded some of the Venezuelan regime’s activities during the economic crisis of the last two years.”

“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,” said U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), in April. In late March, the U.S. Department of Justice filed charges against the Venezuelan regime for narcotrafficking and other illicit activities.

“Farmers are the most affected in this situation. They can’t disobey the cartels’ decisions. If they don’t allow criminal action, they are killed,” says the Venezuelan independent newspaper El Pitazo. “The continuous flow of cocaine exposes the residents of San Felipe, a key location for the Mexican cartel, to constant danger,” Yadira Gálvez, a scholar at the National Autonomous University of México, told Diálogo.

In January, Colombian President Iván Duque said that the Sinaloa Cartel’s influence is so strong that it hires snipers and people to plant antipersonnel mines to avoid Colombian eradication efforts. “These criminals no longer need intermediaries; they do the work themselves, with the help of local Colombian and Venezuelan partners,” Gálvez and Rodríguez agree.

“The criminal group triggers a different dynamic in Venezuela by injecting dollars and laundering money for Maduro,” said Gálvez. “This safe haven allows the Sinaloa Cartel to improve its relationship with its Colombian partners to operate closely in the market.”