U.S. Alleges Venezuela Facilitates Drug Trafficking
By Andres Gaudin
Just as the US and Venezuelan ambassadors returned to Caracas and Washington and it seemed that the ever-complex diplomatic relations between the two countries might begin to function on a mine-free field, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) dropped a bombshell from the US Capitol Building. The senator said on July 16 that, at the hands of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the South American country was becoming a "narcostate." To support the allegation, Lugar pointed to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), based in part on information the Colombian government obtained through interrogations of jailed guerrillas of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). The GAO report charges that Venezuela is at the center of a corruption and drug-trafficking scheme intended to inundate the US with drugs produced in South America.
From among the vast array of world media, Lugar released his allegation to only three dailies: The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times of London, and Spain's El Pais; no Latin American paper was included. Reprinted by international press agencies, the story was front-page news around the world, but the three leading Venezuela opposition media--Globovision TV station and dailies El Nacional and El Universal--were circumspect in their coverage. They used a shortened version and then a day later. They also included government opinions and quoted no anti-Chavez leaders.
Lugar released the information the same day that the Pentagon announced the withdrawal of US military personnel from the Manta base in Ecuador (see NotiSur, 2009-07-31) and the Colombian government announced that the US military whose mission at Manta had been to repress drug trafficking would begin to operate from at least three, and possibly seven, military facilities in Colombia (five air bases and two ports).
GAO says Venezuelan corruption aids drug trafficking
The GAO report says US officials believe that "a high level of corruption within the Venezuelan government, military, and other law enforcement and security forces contributes to the permissive environment" in the country regarding drug trafficking.
The report continues, "According to former FARC members interviewed by Colombian government officials, Venezuelan officials, including those in the National Guard, have been bribed to facilitate cocaine shipments across the border with Colombia."
The text released by Lugar's office claims that the quantity of drugs produced in Colombia and taken out through Venezuela went from 60 metric tons in 2004 to 260 MT in 2007. The drugs frequently leave onboard planes that take off from Venezuela and land in hundreds of clandestine airports in Mexico and other Central American and Caribbean countries.
The story in El Pais attributes to the GAO report allegations that US security agencies detected 178 flights originating in airports in Venezuela suspected of carrying drugs in 2007 compared with 109 such flights in 2004. In the same time frame, it added, flights originating in Colombia and carrying cocaine had been almost eliminated, which a Colombian Air Force official attributed to Colombia's Air Bridge Denial program, developed jointly by that country and the US.
The Spanish newspaper thus claimed, "Since 2004, Venezuela has, in fact, replaced neighboring Colombia as a transshipment point for cocaine. That has been accomplished, according to the report, thanks to the tight collaboration between the Venezuelan armed forces and the Colombian guerrillas, who are deeply involved in the business." This information was not included in the versions by the other two newspapers.
The three papers chosen by Lugar agree that "corruption within the Venezuelan National Guard represents the most significant threat," because it "reports directly to President Chavez and controls Venezuela's airports, borders, and ports. …