Mérida, 12th December 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan counter narcotics efforts have yielded more drug seizures per year since the government broke with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 2005, according to a high ranking military official.
Yesterday the head of the Strategic Operational Command of Venezuela’s armed forces Major General Vladimir Padrino stated that 462 tonnes of illegal drugs have been seized by Venezuelan security forces since 2005, when the Venezuelan government severed ties with the DEA.
This brings the total amount of drug seizures over the last seven years to more than double the amount hauled in the last six years of Venezuela’s partnership with the DEA, which Padrino put at just over 209 tonnes.
“Members of the FANB [Bolivarian National Armed Forces] have made a sustained effort on the front to fight drug trafficking,” Padrino said according to state news agency AVN.
Drug seizures during the period of cooperation with the DEA peaked in the last year of the arrangement in 2004, at just over 43 tonnes according to the government. In the first year the DEA was absent from Venezuela, drug seizures totaled over 77 tonnes, though until this year that annual haul was unsurpassed.
Last month the National Anti-Drug Office (ONA) announced that 83 tonnes of narcotics have been seized so far this year.
Venezuela’s Fight against Drug Trafficking
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, although Venezuela isn’t a major drug producer, the country is used by international traffickers as a transit route between the Andean region and intercontinental markets. Cocaine is increasingly being moved through Venezuela. The US government claims that between 161 to 212 tonnes of cocaine may have been exported in 2011.
The coca leaf, from which cocaine is derived, is mostly grown in countries like Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, but Venezuela’s geographic position makes it a convenient stepping stone for South American drugs bound for North American and European markets, according to some analysts.
“We are confident that we will continue making progress in this important work to ensure that our country is free from drug cultivation and trafficking, although geographically we are the bridge between the largest producing country and the largest drug consumer,” head of the ONA Alejandro Keleris stated last month.
Between 2006 and 2013 over 100 narcotics kingpins were apprehended by Venezuelan authorities, and 141 drug laboratories have been shut down in the past five years, Kerelis said last month.
According to Padrino, Venezuela has also made headway on shutting down unauthorised over flights, which according to the government are often used to traffic drugs through Venezuelan airspace.
Between 1995 and 2007 Venezuela relied on two US operated radars in Puerto Rico to detect unauthorised flights. Padrino criticised the efficiency of this system, which was abandoned under former president Hugo Chavez.
“These radars first gave the information to the United States instead of us,” Padrino said, stating that the system never detected more than 60 unauthorised flights a year. Only 21 unauthorised flights were detected in 2006 by the US operated radars.
Since 2008 Venezuela has monitored its own airspace using a radar system made in China. 85 irregular flights were detected by the system in its first year of operation. This year, 230 irregular flights were found; down from the 2010 peak of 277, but still higher than the yearly average between 1995-2007 according to the general.
Padrino also stated that 247 clandestine airstrips used by narco-traffickers have been destroyed by the government over the past two years, and this year alone 2,021 arrests have been made for drug trafficking.
US Criticism of Venezuelan Counter-Narcotics
Since severing ties with the DEA in 2005, Venezuelan counter-narcotics efforts have received criticism from Washington. In 2007, then US Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy John Walters claimed the drug situation in Venezuela had deteriorated since the DEA’s eviction.
Responding to Walters’ comments, Venezuela’s then Interior Minister Pedro Carreño accused DEA agents of operating their own “drug cartel” in Venezuela prior to their forced departure.
“They were making a large quantity of drug shipments under the pretense of monitoring them, and they didn’t carry out arrests or breakup the cartels,” Carreño said, stating that after ties with the DEA were severed, Venezuelan authorities had allegedly uncovered evidence “of a new drug cartel in which the United States Drug Enforcement Agency was monopolising the shipment of drugs”.
Although Venezuelan consideration of allowing a high level DEA figure to visit the country earlier this year drew US media attention as a sign of a possible “thaw” in bilateral ties with Washington, Caracas has since reaffirmed it won’t be winding the clock back to before 2005.
In October, President Nicolas Maduro labeled the DEA a “true transnational drug trafficking agency”. According to Maduro, Venezuelan authorities are investigating whether the DEA was involved in an attempt to smuggle 1.3 tonnes of cocaine on an Air France flight from Caracas to Paris.
“US agencies will accuse us of being a narco-state, but we are fighting drug trafficking. This is a campaign to morally attack our armed forces,” he said.