Myths and Realities of the Struggle Against Drugs in Venezuela

In order to prepere international public opinion for a possible military attack on Venezuela, U.S. government propaganda insists on the fallacy that the Hugo Chavez government in Venezuela is facilitating drug trafficking. This article examines the myths and realities about the anti-drug struggle in Venezuela.

The end of the agreements that the Bolivarian Government entered into with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) marked the beginning of a media and psychological war against the Bolivarian Revolution. Numerous declarations have been heard from the U.S. government that try to make people believe that drug mafias reign in Venezuela. These slanders, despite being refuted by several reports of international organisations, are amplified by the big trans-national media corporations. The consumer of this type of information then tends to denigrate the Bolivarian government. This is the desired effect: passing the Venezuelan Socialist Revolution off as an accomplice of international drug traffickers in world public opinion in order to afterwards justify any type of military actions launched in the name of the legitimate war against this world health problem. The recent agreement allowing the US army to utilise seven Colombian military bases in order to fight against drug trafficking and terrorism is a materialization of these war mongering threats against Venezuela. But, rather than just attacking the Venezuelan government, it is advisable to ask where our information comes from, and is the principal source of this ongoing campaign of media lies really credible?: namely the United States government and the multinational corporations who consider the Bolivarian Revolution as an obstacle to their interests. We focus below on the five major myths that Venezuela is an ally of drug trafficking. [1]

1) Venezuela doesn't collaborate in the international struggle against drug trafficking.

On 8 August 2005, the Venezuelan government ended the collaboration of its anti-drug services with their U.S. counterparts from the DEA.Venezuelan authorities pointed out that the U.S. agents dedicated more time to spying than to co-operation. The DEA had offices inside of the headquarters of the Venezuelan National Anti-Drug Office (ONA), premises to which not even the director of the ONA himself had access. The break with the DEA doesn't isolate Venezuela from the anti-drug struggle given that on the one hand, the country maintains 50 international agreements in this area, with 37 countries, the majority of them European, and on the other hand, Venezuela continues to have a permanent link with the US authorities to combat this plague, as is shown by the extraditions of drug traffickers to the US.

Also, in honour of the cooperation agreements that the Venezuelan authorities have with numerous countries, several international drug traffickers were handed over to the law enforcement bodies of those countries that asked for them. This occurred in 2008, with extraditions to Colombia, Italy, the United States, Belgium and France.

Aside from these bilateral agreements, Venezuela fully cooperates with the Inter-American Commission for the Control of Drug Abuse, an authority that is accountable to the Organisation of American States (of which the US forms a part), with the Narcotics commission of the United Nations (UN) and with INTERPOL.

During 2008, the ambassadors of Spain, Germany and France in Venezuela carried out various seminars and work meetings jointly with the ONA in which the common commitment to the fight against drugs was reaffirmed.

In September 2009, Venezuela will host the annual meeting, for Latin America and the Caribbean, of the Directors of the National Agencies in charge of combating drug trafficking (HONLEA by its acronym in English, Head of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies). These meetings, held under UN auspices, are aimed at strengthening cooperation among countries and coordinating suppression of drug trafficking at the regional level. European, Asian and African countries participate as observers.

To say that Venezuela doesn't collaborate in the international struggle against drug trafficking is a mystification whose foundations cannot withstand, not for even one moment, an objective analysis of the work of Venezuela and of the agreements that the Bolivarian country honours with many countries and international organisations. 

2) President Chávez is a facilitator of international drug trafficking.

On the 20th of January 2008, during a visit to Colombia, the former director of the Bureau for the Drug Control Policy of the White House declared that "Hugo Chávez is turning himself into an important facilitator of cocaine to Europe and other regions in the hemisphere", meaning the United States. As no proof will ever arise to clarify the statement of the U.S. official, Walters' intention is quite obvious. He is attempting to accuse Hugo Chávez of being in collusion with international drug trafficking. That same accusation was the key media element that legitimised the US intervention into Panamá, in 1989, and to a lesser extent the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 (aside from terrorism). That was also the reason that it invoked in order to implement Plan Colombia and the strengthening of the military aid to the Colombian government in its war against the guerrillas. In short, this is a powerful weapon in the propaganda war that precedes every military intervention.

According to the UN, 50% of the cocaine available in US territory enters by the Pacific coast and 38% arrives by going along the coast of the countries of Central America. In other words, 88% of the cocaine that arrives in the United States doesn't pass, according to the UN, through Venezuela.

If Hugo Chávez and Venezuela don't facilitate international drug trafficking (in 2008, the number of Venezuelans detained in Europe for drug trafficking decreased passing from 121 condemnations to 30), can we say the same for the United States? The World Drug Report by the UN for the year 2008 recalls some illuminating figures.

The world's largest producer of cocaine is Colombia, with 61% of global production; the largest opium producer in the world is Afghanistan, which accounts for 92.5% of production. Those two countries have a massive presence of the U.S. military on their territories, the first in the framework of Plan Colombia; the second due to the military occupation "Enduring Freedom". The UN report demonstrates that, despite the US military occupation, the results with regard to the anti-drug struggle are catastrophic in both countries. In the case of Colombia, cocaine production has practically not fallen even with ten years of technical and military aid from the United States through Plan Colombia. In the case of Afghanistan, the production of opium increased, according to the UN, by 141% since the presence of military troops and the DEA in the country. So, who is the facilitator?

3) Venezuela harbours and protects international drug traffickers.

It's not a good idea for people to involve themselves in drug trafficking in Venezuela since the government decided to expel the officials from the DEA. The clarity of the figures speaks for themselves. In 2004, with the support of US officials, the Venezuelan justice system sentenced 1170 traffickers (within which 273 were foreigners). Four years later, and without the presence of the DEA, Venezuela put behind bars 9133 traffickers behind bars (within which 419 were foreigners). Without the DEA officials, the convictions by the year 2008 increased 675%.

If we accumulate the results of the last four years of co-operation with the DEA and compare this figure with the cumulative results in the first four years of an independent and sovereign policy in the anti-drug struggle, it ends up being very positive and encouraging for the Venezuelan State. During the last four years of the DEA presence, 8823 people were arrested. Since Venezuela assumed its own anti-drug policy, 15, 174 criminals have had to face justice in the country. That is an increase of 72%.

For the year 2007 alone, 68 police officers accused of providing collaboration with organized crime were also arrested.

In the course of the year 2008, fourteen drug king-pins thought to have taken refuge in Venezuela were arrested and extradited, principally to Colombia and the US. These include, among others, the Colombians Marcos Orozco Wilches, Aldo Álvarez Duran, Farid Domínguez, and Gustavo Otero Borrero, wanted for drug trafficking. But above all, Venezuela can be proud of the arrest of Hermagoras González Polanco "The Fat One", head of the La Guarija cartel and the principal leader of the paramilitary organisation United Self-defense of Colombia (AUC) in this region. Likewise, the head of the Colombian North Atlantic cartel Libardo de Jesús Parra González was questioned in Marcaibo. All these international criminals have been extradited to Colombia or handed over to INTERPOL. 

The Italian, Giovanni Civile, arrested in September 2008 and requested by France, is awaiting extradition.

Despite the closure of the DEA office in Caracas, the Venezuelan authorities continue collaborating with the United States' justice system. The drug trafficker Daniel Ervin Davis and the Mexican Luis Ramón Guerra know this very well as they were extradited to the great northern neighbour.

Meanwhile, during the years of collaboration with the DEA, the US organisation exclusively managed the information on requested drug lords, since the breaking of this agreement with this agency, Venezuela expelled or extradited 23 international king-pins of drug trafficking.

Having recovered its sovereignty in the struggle against drug trafficking, Venezuela has turned into a real hell hole for international traffickers.

4) The consumption of drugs has increased in Venezuela since the expulsion of the agents of the DEA. 

One of the orientations of the ONA is that of considering that "they measure seizures in grams and not in tonnes". If the record seizures of drugs made by the Venezuelan agency are very strong blows against drug trafficking, primary attention should focus on the consumer, not only in terms of apprehension but insisting on prevention.

In this terrain, the ONA has weaved together co-operation with all the organisations and all the sectors of Venezuela social life with the end of making the population aware about the devastating effects of consuming drugs. In order to sensitise the public about the devastating effects of drug use, the ONA launched, in 2008, the "Sowing values for the Life" Plan whose role is the training of Venezuelan citizens in order that they can combat the roots of consumption.

Consequently, several training workshops were carried out in the schools of the Republic to refine the pedagogical message that the teachers transmit to their students. In the universities, some Internal Anti-Drug Offices were created to develop prevention projects with the university community. 

At a workplace level, the ONA collaborates with all public and private businesses of more than 50 employees with the objective of reducing the consumption of drugs and alcohol in the workplace. From July to November 2008, training was given to Venezuelan business representatives to assist them in preventing consumption and in order to pass on this information in their companies. 

Moreover, numerous sporting events, such as basketball, soccer, boxing and chess tournaments, were organised by the ONA in the poor communities of the major cities of the country to encourage in young people the regular practice of a sport and in this way stay away from the vices of drugs. These sports matches were also the ideal place to spread the prevention message of the ONA.

In addition, the Venezuelan agency involves itself particularly in working with populations most exposed to the problem of drugs for socio-cultural reasons: children and adolescents on the streets, the prison population, indigenous communities, citizens with disabilities, or communities on the border with Colombia, the world's leading producer of cocaine.

As a governmental office, the ONA was able to adapt to the structural changes of the Venezuela state apparatus, in its conversion into a truly Revolutionary State, making collaboration with the Communal Councils a priority. In accordance with article 8 and 9 of the Law on Communal Councils, the ONA participates in the development of a Communal Prevention Committee in order to reinforce the local implementation of work of informing about the dangers of drugs by grassroots organisations.

Moreover, in order to weave a strong social network, the ONA institutionalised, with the help from the organised communities, a well-known anti-drug person responsible at all the levels of the Venezuelan State (Regional, Municipal and Parochial) incorporating in this way 11, 296 citizens in the preventative work of the struggle against drugs.

This daily work produced good results, According to UN figures, Venezuela has a rather weak per capita consumption, clearly less than the European countries, and without no possible comparison with the world's number one consumer of drugs: the United States. For example, the city of New York has a per capita consumption of cocaine 12 times higher than Paris, and much more than any major city in Venezuela.

5) The results obtained by Venezuela in its struggle against drugs are appalling.  
There exists a category of people that already don't believe this media lie: traffickers themselves.

The positive results of the Bolivarian government in the war against drugs have grown steadily since the expulsion of the DEA officials.

While the Bolivarian government seized 43 tonnes of drugs in 2004, thanks to the collaboration with the DEA, this figure increase to 77.5 tonnes of drugs seized as soon as the US officials were expelled. The good results of this sovereign policy in the struggle against drug trafficking are confirmed if we analyse the seizures of the first four years without the collaboration of the DEA (250,298.19 kilograms of drugs seized) with the four preceding years (150,884.65 kilograms of drugs seized). We can see an increase of 63% in the tonnes of drugs confiscated when there is no DEA interference in the affairs of Venezuela. 

Significantly, the success of Venezuela continues to rise. During Operation Boquete, developed in 2008, 223 clandestine airstrips used by drug traffickers were destroyed. This operation, had the participation of 600 officials from the ONA, the Bolivarian National Armed Forces and the National Guard, supported by MI-17 helicopters, by F-16 planes and new Chinese- made radars recently acquired to struggle against international trafficking.

Likewise, the destruction of clandestine laboratories, which generally are along the border with Colombia, is a priority of the Venezuelan government. In 2007 alone, Venezuela dismantled 12 clandestine laboratories that produced up to a tonne of cocaine daily per month.

Generally, international bodies like the UN or the OAS, through its Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism, and the many countries that have bilateral agreements with Venezuela in the fight against drugs, all agree in emphasizing the success of Venezuela in this field. 


[1] The figures used are extracts from the World Report on Drugs carried out by the UN in 2007 and 2008, as well as from the results of the National Anti-Drugs Office of Venezuela. 

WDR 2007: http://www.unodc.org/pdf/research/wdr07/WDR_2007.pdf

WDR2008: http://www.unodc.org/documents/wdr/WDR_2008/WDR_2008_eng_web.pdf

Oficina Nacional Antidrogas (ONA): http://www.ona.gob.ve 


Translated by Sean Seymor-Jones for Venezuelanalysis.com