Thursday, July 16, 2009

Jul 16/09 | From Petrostate to Narcostate: Venezuela High on Drugs according to GAO Report (WSJ, FT, El País)

PMBComment: The WSJ, the FT and El País of Spain (see articles below in English and Spanish) have obtained copies of a soon to be published report by the GAO on Drug Trafficking in Venezuela. According to Antonio Caño from El País, the report, which should become public in the next few days, essentially concludes that Venezuela has morphed into a narcostate. All three newspapers carry very strong quotes from Senator Dick Lugar (R-Ind) who commissioned the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to look into Venezuela's growing role as a key player in the international drug trade.
"The findings of this report have heightened my concern that Venezuela's failure to cooperate with the United States on drug interdiction is related to corruption in that country's government," says Sen. Lugar.
Quoting from the WSJ story: "Corruption within the Venezuelan National Guard "poses the most significant threat," the report says, because the "Guard reports directly to President Chávez and controls Venezuela's airports, borders and ports".
All of what is being reported comes as no surprise to many Venezuelans. For a decade the penetration of the drug business into regular day-to-day life has been fomented by senior government officials who are confident their misdeeds will go unreported and unpunished.
The report will present the Obama administration yet another test as to the fundamental nature of rogue states. Seeking to maintain good relationship with a country that does not want to discuss any of the sore subjects soiling its bilateral relationship with Washington (among others) is foolhardy. The real challenge is how to prosecute criminal behavior without empowering a regime that thrives on vitriolic US-is-at-fault victimization. It is about time that those who appease Mr. Chávez (Mr. Lula first and foremost) realize they are not only accessories to the wanton destruction of Venezuelan democracy, but also complicit in the transformation of the country into a crumbling, yet worrisome, narcostate. PMB
Note: The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is known as "the investigative arm of Congress" and "the congressional watchdog." GAO supports the Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities and helps improve the performance and accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people, Source GAO web site

El País | Madrid (Unofficial translation)
Narco trafficking penetrates Venezuela
A US Congress report describes the birth of a ‘narcostate’ in that Caribbean nation – Since 2004 cocaine exportation has quadrupled
ANTONIO CAÑO - Washington – 16 July 2009
A United States Congress report warns of strong narcotraffic penetration into Venezuela, with a very significant increase in drug exportation volume and of complicity in that business by high civilian and military officials of the régime, who collaborate with and protect the Colombian guerrillas and criminal organizations. In substance, this report, which will be disclosed at the end of this month, describes the birth of a narcostate in Venezuela.
According to this investigation, that country has become the main distribution center for cocaine produced in Colombia and the main port of embarkation for this product aimed especially at markets in the United States and Spain. “A high level of corruption inside the Venezuelan Government, Army and other law enforcement forces have contributed to the creation of this climate of permissiveness,” thus assures the report, whose content EL PAÍS has been able to access.
“The findings of this report have heightened my concern that Venezuela’s refusal to cooperate with the United States on drug interdiction is due to existing corruption in that country’s Government,” thus affirms Senator Richard Lugar, the highest ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who entrusted the preparation of this document to the General Accountability Office (GAO) that reports to Congress, in an effort to confirm information from the State Department concerning the increase in narcotraffic in Venezuela.
Lugar considers that, following this investigation, “this at least requires a comprehensive review of United States policy toward Venezuela,” and suggests similar measures for “other countries affected” by this situation.
From 2004 until 2007, the amount of cocaine produced in Colombia and shipped from Venezuela has more than quadrupled, going from 60 tons per year to 260 tons per year. According to the report, these figures represent 17% of all the cocaine produced in the world in 2007. “After entering Venezuela,” the document relates, “the cocaine usually leaves the country aboard aircraft that take off and land at hundreds of clandestine airports.”
United States security agencies detected 178 flights, originating from Venezuelan airports in 2007, suspected of transporting drugs, compared to the 109 that had been spotted in 2004. During this same period, cocaine flights from Colombia had been practically eliminated, thanks to drug enforcement programs developed jointly by that country and the United States.
In other words, since the year 2004, Venezuela has in fact displaced the cocaine traffic formerly generated in neighboring Colombia. This has been accomplished, according to the report, thanks to the close collaboration between the Venezuelan Armed Forces and the Colombian guerillas, heavily involved in the business.
“According to members of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) interrogated by the Colombian government, Venezuelan government officials, including members of the National Guard, have received bribes meant to facilitate the passage of cocaine from the Colombian border area,” thus assures the document from the United States Congress.
“The corruption within the National Guard,” adds the report, “represents the most significant threat, given that the Guard reports directly to President Hugo Chávez and controls Venezuela’s borders, airports and seaports.”
The report, prepared between August of 2008 and the current month of July, includes actions the Venezuelan government has taken in recent years to destroy clandestine airports and drug caches, but warns that it is difficult to weigh the validity of this information given that United States participation in drug enforcement in Venezuela, which was intense up until 2004, has practically disappeared now.
Some officials of the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) still continue to work in Venezuela, but the document from Congress assures that their work is marginal: “They say they continue to meet informally with the Venezuelans in charge, but these meeting are generally meant more to maintain communications than to discuss substantial matters of cooperation.”
According to the report, the United States has made some efforts to resume that collaboration, especially stemming from the meeting, in April, at the Trinidad and Tobago summit, between Chávez and United States President Barack Obama. One of those steps has been to invite Venezuela’s Prosecutor General to visit Washington to discuss diverse antidrug initiatives, but the Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Relations has not yet granted permission for that trip.
United States aid in the fight against drugs in Venezuela, which was almost 11 million dollars in 2003, has been reduced to less than two million in 2008. “Despite all the efforts, cooperation continues to decline,” thus concludes the document.
The report from the United States Congress mentions Spain as the principal destination outside of the Americas for flights originating in Venezuela. On that continent, the main routes toward the United States are through Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and other countries in Central America and the Caribbean.
In Mexico, the drug coming from Venezuela ends up in the hands of gangs who have control of this activity in that country. Elsewhere, the shipments frequently do not reach land, but are tossed into the sea, where they are picked up by ships that carry on with the shipping.
Link to original article in Spanish:

The Wall Street Journal
U.S. Slams Caracas on Drugs
Venezuela is fast becoming a major hub for cocaine trafficking in the Western Hemisphere, according to a report written by the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress. The report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office is sure to raise tensions between Venezuela and the U.S. at a delicate moment in the two countries' often testy relations.
The report, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, blames widespread government corruption for increases in cocaine transshipments through Venezuela. Such shipments have soared more than fourfold to 260 metric tons in 2007 from 60 metric tons in 2004 as the government of President Hugo Chávez has systematically slashed its antinarcotics cooperation efforts with the U.S., according to the report.
"A high level of corruption within the Venezuelan government, military and other law enforcement and security forces contributes to the permissive environment," says the report, scheduled to be released this month. Many of the drug shipments come from Colombian "illegal armed groups" such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the report says, which the Venezuelan government provides with "a lifeline" of support and a haven within Venezuela. FARC is a communist guerrilla group.
The biggest problem: corruption of Venezuelan officials at all levels, according to the report.Corruption within the Venezuelan National Guard "poses the most significant threat," the report says, because the "Guard reports directly to President Chávez and controls Venezuela's airports, borders and ports." In some cases, the report says, drugs captured by the National Guard and Venezuela's Investigative Police, who are often themselves involved in drug trafficking, aren't destroyed, but are taken by the officials or returned to drug traffickers.
"The findings of this report have heightened my concern that Venezuela's failure to cooperate with the United States on drug interdiction is related to corruption in that country's government," said Sen. Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, who commissioned the report.
"The report's findings require, at a minimum, a comprehensive review of U.S. policy towards Venezuela," he added.
Venezuela's ambassador to Washington, Bernardo Álvarez, said in a statement that he wouldn't comment on the report because he hadn't yet received it. But Mr. Álvarez said Venezuela is engaged in a "complex fight against drug trafficking" which has been recognized by the Organization of American States, Interpol and many other countries.
The GAO report comes at a particularly delicate time in U.S.-Venezuelan relations. Last month, the two countries agreed to re-establish ambassadors for the first time since September, when Venezuela expelled the U.S. ambassador and the U.S. followed suit. Mr. Álvarez said the report wouldn't help this rapprochement.
The report also comes as Mr. Chávez and the Obama administration have formed an unlikely alliance to restore Honduras's ousted President Manuel Zelaya, one of Mr. Chávez's closest regional allies, who was deposed last month. Honduran soldiers, acting on a Supreme Court warrant, detained Mr. Zelaya in a pre-dawn raid for pushing a referendum to rewrite the constitution allowing him to remain in power -- a move the court had declared illegal -- and put him on a plane out of the country.
But Mr. Chávez, who is funding Mr. Zelaya's efforts to make a comeback, has excoriated a U.S.-backed mediation effort to restore Mr. Zelaya, and angrily threatened to depose the interim government.
In the past few years, drug trafficking through Honduras has risen sharply, with many shipments of cocaine arriving in flights from Venezuela on their way to Mexico and the U.S., say officials in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.
Write to Jose de Cordoba at
Financial Times | AMERICAS & Policy
Venezuela accused of corruption in drugs fight
By Benedict Mander in Caracas
Published: July 15 2009 19:53 | Last updated: July 15 2009 19:53
A spiralling drug trafficking problem in Venezuela has been made worse by official corruption and a refusal to co-operate with the US, according to a forthcoming US Congress report.
A copy of the report, obtained by the Financial Times, showed that efforts to combat a fourfold increase in cocaine smuggling through Venezuela between 2004 and 2007 have been damaged by corruption in the national guard, which, it says, co-operates with Colombian drug traffickers.
Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking member of the US Senate committee on foreign relations, who requested the report in February 2008, said: “The findings of this report have heightened my concern that Venezuela’s failure to co-operate with the United States on drug interdiction is related to corruption in that country’s government.
Despite more than $6bn (€4.3bn, £3.7bn) invested by the US government to attack Colombia’s cocaine trade, the report argues that this has been undermined by Venezuela’s failure to prevent leftwing guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) from using its territory as a haven.
The Farc, which US officials fear enjoys the support of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez, are believed to send about 60 per cent of the cocaine that reaches the US from Colombia.
Mr Lugar said Venezuela’s “unco-operative attitude” called for “a comprehensive review” of US policy towards the country, at a time when the two nations are attempting to improve relations that have suffered ever since the US supported a coup that briefly deposed Mr Chávez in 2002.
Last September, Venezuela’s fiery leader expelled the US ambassador – prompting the US to reciprocate – but both ambassadors were reinstated last month in an attempt to rebuild relations.
Nevertheless, Mr Chávez continues to refuse to allow the US Drug Enforcement Administration to operate in Venezuela, after ending co-operation with them in 2005 because of suspicions of espionage.
Although Venezuelan officials could not immediately be reached for comment, they have rejected similar criticisms from the US in the past, arguing that Venezuela is the victim of an accident of geography, stuck between the world’s largest cocaine producer, Colombia, and the drug’s largest consumer, the US.
Mr Chávez has brushed off such attacks as politically motivated, countering that Venezuela has implemented a comprehensive anti-drug strategy that includes prevention, drug seizures, arrests and extraditions of criminals. It has also signed 37 co-operation agreements with countries that include France, Spain and Portugal.
Although the Venezuelan government says that average cocaine seizures have increased by as much as 60 per cent since co-operation with the DEA ended, the US has cast doubt on the reliability of these figures.
Although the US remains the primary destination for the cocaine that passes through Venezuela, the Government Accountability Office report contends that an increasing proportion is smuggled to Europe.
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