On January 9, Hugo Chavez announced that two Venezuelan F-16s had been dispatched to intercept a U.S. P3 maritime patrol aircraft in his country’s airspace, presenting it as another example of American aggression. In reality, Chavez is trying to push back against U.S. anti-narcotics efforts because he knows that it will expose him as a drug king pin whose business is helping terrorists and poisoning Western societies.
As widely reported, Venezuela supports the Marxist narco-terrorist group called the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, commonly referred to as FARC. This group has been found to be working with Al-Qaeda drug traffickers in West Africa, three of which were extradited to the U.S. in December. Faced with increased interceptions of cocaine from Latin America directly to the U.S., the Venezuelans and their Colombian allies are instead transiting via West Africa.
“All of the aircraft seizures that have been made in West Africa, and we’ve made about a half a dozen of them, had departed from Venezuela. If you look at the range and refueling requirements, that’s the place you have to fly from,” Jay Bergman, the Drug Enforcement Agency’s director for South America’s Andean region told MSNBC.com.
Venezuela has become the number one supplier of cocaine to the U.S., Spain, and Colombia, with the amount increasing by four times between 2004 and 2007. Over half of the cocaine in the United Kingdom, and possibly as high as two-thirds, arrives via Venezuela. Since Chavez has come to power, the number of drug-related arrests in Venezuela has fallen dramatically, at one point to less than one-tenth of the number before he came to power.
The Venezuelan also uses FARC and its drug networks to support other forces friendly to their anti-American cause. As Iran and Chavez have gotten closer, so has Hezbollah with the FARC and Venezuelan officials. After Jose Manuel Zelaya was ousted from power in Honduras, it was claimed by the Honduran Foreign Minister that Zelaya and Chavez had been collaborating in sending cocaine to the U.S.
“Every night, three or four Venezuelan-registered planes land without the permission of appropriate authorities and bring thousands of pounds…and packages of money that are the fruit of drug trafficking…We have proof of all of this. Neighboring governments have it. The DEA has it,” he said.
This cannot be attributed to widespread corruption in Latin America. This is a calculated effort on the part of Chavez’s government. In September 2008, the Treasury Department blacklisted three senior Venezuelan officials for their involvement in supporting FARC and their drug activity. This included the head of Venezuela’s military intelligence, the head of their overall intelligence community, and a former interior and justice minister.
On January 21, 2008, the White House’s drug czar dismissed the notion that the drug trafficking in Venezuela was not necessarily a government enterprise.
“Where are the big seizures, where are the big arrests of individuals who are at least logistical coordinators? When it’s being launched from controlled airports and seaports, where are the arrests of corrupt officials? At some point here, this is tantamount to collusion,” he said.
Chavez is doing this because it works. It is a good intelligence tool, as it allows for the penetration of enemy institutions, and is a great fundraiser for covert activities and terrorists. Venezuela and their allies are able to profit off of the self-induced damage of Western drug addicts, and can use drug trafficking to support forces that wreak havoc upon their enemies.
Although no direct evidence of Venezuelan government support for Mexican drug gangs is available, their overall support for narcotics trafficking to the U.S. undoubtedly helps them wage war. In 2005, Mexico and Venezuela severed ties and recalled their ambassadors after Chavez accused President Vicente Fox of being a “puppy” of the U.S. and threatened him, saying “Don’t mess with me, sir, because you’ll get stung.” Although ties were restored in 2007, Mexico is still governed by the same political party as Fox under President Felipe Calderon, an opponent of Chavez.
Chavez has reacted to U.S. concern over this activity with dismissal. In 2005, he ended all cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Agency. He has actually accused the DEA of being the ones behind the drug trafficking in his country, and has minimized their presence to only two agents by not renewing their work visas. Chavez has publicly opposed the War on Drugs, describing it in 2006 as “an excuse that imperialists have used for several years to penetrate our country, trample our people and justify a military presence in Latin America.”
Venezuela is not merely supporting drug trafficking due to corruption, make money, and support its FARC ally, but as an instrument of policy. And there should be a price to pay for that policy.