Criminal Networks in Venezuela

By Colmenares, Prof Leopoldo E. G. | Military Review, January/February 2016 | Go to article overview

Criminal Networks in Venezuela


Colmenares, Prof Leopoldo E. G., Military Review


Following the maturation of its democratic process at the end of the 1960s, Venezuela was a stabilizing force in the Latin American region, making active contributions to strengthening peace among the nations of the region, promoting democracy and, in general, acting as a positive element for Latin American development. However, in recent years, the South American nation's actions have threatened the security and stability of the hemisphere. Venezuela has interfered with and destabilized other countries in the region, supported internal and external paramilitary forces, and threatened war with its neighbors-all activities derived from the political-strategic course charted by the regime of Hugo Chávez Frías.

A few years after Chávez rose to power in 1999, he began implementing a political-strategic plan he called the "Bolivarian Revolution," which threatened Latin American peace. Chávez's plan was characterized by a hostile and confrontational posture toward the United States, actions designed to export Chávez's autocratic, socialist model to other countries of the region, and a foreign policy that embroiled Venezuela in international-level conflicts.

For example, the Chávez government resolutely supported the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and it closely collaborated with actors from outside the region such as Russia. This collaboration led to the presence of nuclear-capable warships and bombers in Venezuelan ports and airports, and, during one exercise, resulted in the violation of Colombian airspace.1 Similarly, Venezuela has been linked to Iran, helping that nation skirt economic sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union, and allowing Iranian nationals to enter Venezuela to participate in activities that some authors tie to international terrorism and Iran's nuclear program.2

Following the sudden demise of Chávez in 2013, based on writs of execution ordered by his successor, Nicolás Maduro, almost all of the characteristics of this regional security environment are still in existence. However, it is now instead fueled by two vectors. First, what might be called ideological inertia has been sustained by Maduro, which preserves the principal elements of Chávez's foreign policy; in particular, confrontation with the United States. Second, and more importantly, criminal activities are carried out by an ensemble of transnational criminal networks that are closely tied to the national government.

More recently, Venezuela has gained international attention from both accusations and proven actions of involvement in transnational criminal networks by civilian and military officials. These networks are involved in illicit operations like narcotics trafficking, money laundering, financial crimes, and corruption. Similarly, Venezuela has been tied, directly or indirectly, to support of international terrorism, which together with its participation in illicit networks, represents a clear danger to regional security and stability.3

The participation of high-level officials of the Venezuelan government in transnational criminal enterprises is a direct by-product of the Chavista revolutionary process. Chávez used a crude model to implement what is also known as "twenty-first century socialism" and attempted to export it to the rest of Latin America. This model is characterized by the militarization of most of the state institutions, implicit support for corruption, and the creation of systems-both legal and illegal-that parallel state institutions. Application of this model creates ideal conditions for the formation of criminal networks related to narcotics trafficking and white-collar crime. These networks have a global reach and present a threat to hemispheric security and regional stability.

The aim of this article is to advance a theory of how a political process, considered by Chavistas as "revolutionary," has resulted instead in a state of affairs that allows a partnership between the Venezuelan government and illicit transnational organizations, without radical changes in the social and political environment. …

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