Mérida, September 20th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – In the days following the release of a White House memorandum that placed Venezuela on a list of illicit drug transit and producing countries, Venezuela deported two suspected drug traffickers, confiscated 3,260 kilograms of illegal drugs, and seized four airplanes used for drug trafficking.
Venezuela’s National Anti-Drugs Office (ONA) and Penal, Criminal, and Scientific Investigative Unit (CICPC) worked in a team to capture Jaime Alberto “Beto” Marín, the chief of the Colombian Norte del Valle cartel, and Omar Guzmán Martínez, a Dominican cocaine trafficking suspect, on September 16th and August 25th, respectively.
In a nationally televised event, Venezuelan authorities escorted the two men to an airplane in Caracas to be deported to the US. Both suspects were wanted by the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL). Minister for Justice and the Interior Tarek El Aissami said the US government had offered $5 million for information leading to Marín’s arrest.
Meanwhile, in separate operations, the ONA and the CICPC seized four airplanes that had been altered to avoid tracking and were being used for international drug operations from a clandestine location in Portuguesa state. The National Guard also confiscated 2.7 metric tons of marijuana and 600 kilograms of cocaine that were being transported through Venezuela from Colombia.
The deportations and confiscations all occurred since the release last Wednesday of a White House memorandum that designated Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela as “major illicit drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries for the fiscal year 2011.”
“A country’s presence on the Majors List is not necessarily an adverse reflection of its government’s counternarcotics efforts or level of cooperation with the United States,” the memorandum said, citing “geographic, commercial, and economic factors that allow drugs to transit or be produced despite the concerned government’s most assiduous enforcement measures.”
The memorandum highlighted the anti-drug efforts of governments that collaborate with the US and allow a US military presence in their territory, including Afghanistan, Mexico, and Colombia. It designated Bolivia and Venezuela, countries which oppose the US’s free trade polices and its military presence in Latin America, “as countries that have failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements.”
Venezuelan authorities have confiscated a total of 46.7 metric tons of illegal drugs, seized 30 airplanes used for drug trafficking, and arrested 16 drug traffickers wanted by INTERPOL so far this year, according to the ONA.
Justice Minister Tarek El-Aissami said Venezuela’s record of anti-drug efforts contradict the memorandum, which he called “abusive and interventionist.” He accused the US government of using such reports as diplomatic attacks against countries that do not adhere to Washington-approved policies.
“In an irresponsible, arbitrary and unilateral way, the Government of the United States tries to set itself up as the judge of other countries’ policies on drug trafficking,” El Aissami said. “We do not accept blackmails or pressures from any empire,” he added.
President Hugo Chavez suggested the timing of the memorandum, which was released a week and a half before Venezuela’s National Assembly elections, had the purpose of swaying voter opinion against Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela.
The US’s reports presented Venezuela’s anti-drug efforts in a positive light during the early years of the Chavez administration, when Venezuela was collaborating with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). But since Venezuela severed ties with the DEA in 2005 on suspicion that the agency was spying, the US government has repeatedly classified the Venezuelan government’s anti-drug program as a failure.
Venezuela, however, says its anti-drug efforts have improved since breaking ties with the DEA. According to ONA statistics, between the years 2002 and 2005, when Venezuela was collaborating with the DEA, a total of 6,836 people were arrested on drug-related charges and 202,562 kilograms of illegal drugs were interdicted; between the years 2006 and 2009, after Venezuela severed ties with the DEA, a total of 22,833 people were arrested on drug-related charges and 233,326 kilograms of illegal drugs were interdicted.
The government also reported the destruction of dozens of drug laboratories and hundreds of clandestine airplane landing strips as well as the setup of security checkpoints in major airports since 2006.
Last year, the ONA launched a national program to prevent drug consumption by programming educational and recreational activities with local communities, and launched a program to assist business owners in avoiding the diversion of chemical substances into the hands of drug producers. Despite having severed ties with the DEA, Venezuela has endorsed more than 52 anti-drug cooperation agreements with 38 countries.
In an interview on the state television station, ONA Director Nestor Reverol said Venezuela has been free of illicit drug cultivation for five consecutive years, but is located between Colombia, a major drug producer, and the US, a major drug consumer, which has made it a transit route.
Citing Colombian government statistics, Reverol pointed out that while the amount of hectares dedicated to cocaine production in Colombia has been reduced, the amount of cocaine produced per hectare increased from 4.2 kilograms in 1999 to 6.3 kilograms in 2009. He said this is evidence of the failure of the US’s Plan Colombia, through which the US gave an estimated $6.5 billion of aid and increased its military presence on Colombian bases under the auspices of fighting the “War on Drugs” over the past ten years.
Colombia’s close military and economic alliance with the US has caused several ruptures in its bilateral relations with Venezuela in recent years. Most recently, Venezuela severed ties with the outgoing government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, which repeatedly accused Venezuela of harboring “terrorist” guerrillas, an accusation that Venezuela interpreted as a threat of war. The two countries re-established relations once the newly elected President Juan Manuel Santos took office in August.
As a sign that bilateral relations are improving, Santos’s minister for defense, Rodrigo Rivera, congratulated Venezuela for the recent arrest and deportation of the two drug traffickers, according to Minister El Aissami.